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Unlocking Accessibility for UX/UI Designers

taught by: Denis Boudreau

Session Summary:

Let’s not kid ourselves - accessibility is hard. While developers are handling much of the implementation responsibilities, it’s usually the designers’ responsibilities to define what the interactions. Usability heuristics have been around since the 1990s and have helped designers ensure their products are as usable as possible to the average users. It’s time we applied the concept of heuristics to make our products as accessible as possible as well! Come learn how the collective wisdom acquired over the last 20 years in the accessibility field can help make accessibility more accessible to designers. You won’t be disappointed.


Web accessibility is complicated and has an incredible amount of moving parts. Worse, not all of it is even relevant to you, as designers. Most accessibility experts you ever crossed path with probably told you otherwise. But you won’t hear any of that in this session. Not from me. I am here to tell you otherwise.

WCAG is a great exercise in theory. And for those of us who work in the field, it is immensely valuable. But you’re not one of those people, and you have bigger fish to fry. Besides, in your down time, why would you ever want to catch up on your WCAG documentation?

Accessibility is hard, not so much because of how complex each Success Criteria is. Some of them are a bit cryptic, granted. After all, there’s a reason why hundreds of “Understanding” pages are needed to explain what WCAG is really about. And we still wonder why everyone else cringes at the idea of learning about accessibility?

As designers find themselves drawn to inclusive design principles, many of us feel accessibility stifles creativity with its overly complex set of seemingly arbitrary rules that appear impossible to apply to real-life projects. But what if, instead of approaching accessibility from a technical perspective as most of us have always done, we started looking at it as a set of heuristics that can be applied broadly to design? What if we developed general rules of thumb that naturally fit into existing frameworks practiced by many designers? What if we considered the possibility of only tackling some of those heuristics at first, knowing we could progressively add to our list as time goes on? There’s no better person in the project lifecycle than the designer to tackle this head on. Yet, the tools available to you to be successful in doing so are severely limited.

So here’s my proposal to you. A set of 10 heuristics, that basically translate all the relevant parts of WCAG in general rules of thumb you can more easily work with. Most of you are already familiar with the concept, thanks to the great work from Jakob Nielsen, back in 1995. It’s worked great for usability for over 24 years, why not learn from it and apply something similar to web accessibility? Research has shown that approaching accessibility through the lens of these heuristics is better adapted to how we think as designers. Hopefully, you will agree, too.

01 – Navigation and Wayfinding Users can easily navigate, find content, and determine where they are at all times within the system.

02 – Structure and Semantics Users can make sense of the structure of the content on each page and understand how to operate within the system.

03 – Contrast and Legibility Text and other meaningful information can be easily distinguished and read by users of the system.

04 – Language and Readability Content on the page can easily be read and understood by users of the system.

05 – Error Prevention and States Interactive controls have persistent, meaningful instructions to help prevent mistakes, and provide users with clear error states which indicate what the problems are – and how to fix them – whenever errors are returned.

06 – Predictability and Consistency The purpose of each element is predictable, and how each element relates to the system as a whole is clear and meaningful, to avoid confusion for the users.

07 – Visual and Auditory Alternatives Purely visual or auditory content that conveys information has text-based alternatives for users who can’t see or hear.

08 – Interaction Methods and Modalities Users can efficiently interact with the system using the input method of their choosing.

09 – Time and Preservation Users are given enough time to complete tasks and do not lose information if their time runs out.

10 – Movement and Flashing Elements on the page that move, flash, or animate in other ways can be stopped, and do not distract or harm the users.

Each heuristic can be broken down into a series of contextualized considerations and potentially opens just as many cans of worms. Come open those cans with me, and see what we find. I bet we can leverage the collective wisdom acquired over the last 20 years in the accessibility field to make make accessibility more accessible to designers.