Blog Insights
Design Series: Ensuring Accessibility

This is the fourth and final post in a four-part blog series, Building Trust and Credibility Through Design, based on a webinar led by Forum One’s Vice President of Design. Watch the webinar.

Inclusivity truly lies at the heart of our mission-driven partners. So at Forum One, we don’t have to do a lot of convincing about the importance of accessibility, but there are still a lot of questions about how best to build digital experiences that welcome and respect all users. There are great strategies you can employ to ensure that the designs you put out in the world are inclusive.

Accessibility lessons from a lifeguard

Growing up in the Pocono Mountains, I had the luxury of learning to swim in a river. As a kid, the lifeguards on the river that kept us safe were like superheroes. When I became a teenager, I joined a team of lifeguards who patrolled a beach in the Delaware Water Gap.

Lifeguarding is the ultimate team sport because of the implied consequences—your goal is to make sure everyone can safely and equitably enjoy the water. Our beach was commonly frequented by folks of all ages with varying levels of swimming skills. And though the beach area of the river was roped off to a certain area, there were still undercurrents and weather patterns to consider. With all of these potential implications to safety, there was a huge need to not only uphold the many important rules and regulations, but to do our best to explain the need for them. Add to that—you have to make sure everyone understands what to do with the quick sounding of a whistle and hand gestures.

In lifeguarding and in design, accessibility is not just a legal requirement—it’s a moral imperative. In both, teams must work together, designers and internal stakeholders alike, to ensure that all audiences can easily understand how to engage in the inclusive environment. And doing this right ensures that audiences trust that you’ll take care of them and support them in their experience of whatever you design – a safe swimming environment or a digital product.

Credibility Through Inclusive Design

Prioritizing accessibility not only demonstrates your organization’s commitment to inclusivity but also expands your reach and impact by making your mission accessible to a wider audience.

Follow Accessibility Guidelines

Lifeguards live to follow and enforce the rules. Similarly, it’s imperative that your teams familiarize themselves with established accessibility guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are the comprehensive standards for making digital content accessible to users with disabilities.

When I was working in-house at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we leaned on an external accessibility partner to help us train our internal teams on best practices. It made all the difference in creating consensus for accessible website designs but it also eventually extended into increasing the accessibility of PDF materials, which many organizations grapple with. Sometimes all it takes is an outside voice to help push these types of initiatives forward.

Regular Accessibility Audits

Our job each and every day as a lifeguard was to ensure that we checked our equipment and the site before we opened it for the day. Conducting regular accessibility audits and usability testing to identify and address any accessibility issues. Getting feedback from users with disabilities will ensure that your designs meet their needs effectively.

Responsive Design

When you’re working on the river or at a pool, you have to consider the needs of folks with a range of skills and familiarity with your environment. Similarly, you can expect users to have a wide variety of needs when interacting with your digital product. Ensuring that your digital platforms are optimized for mobile devices will accommodate the needs of those who prefer to engage on any device. A responsive design ensures a consistent and enjoyable experience across all devices, which increases engagement and accessibility.

Color Contrast

It’s important to take your shades off to see clearly as a lifeguard. Similarly, running color contrast tests will ensure that volks with low vision or color blindness are able to see the content you’ve worked so hard to get them to engage with. Ensuring sufficient color contrast between text and the background elements in your experiences will improve that readability. WCAG provides specific guidelines for color contrast ratios that should be adhered to.

For example, Forum One worked with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) BioInteractive team to create a user-friendly and engaging digital hub for educational resources, interactive applications, lesson plans, workshops, videos, news articles, and more to help 40,000 science educators around the world connect students with inspiring ideas in biology and increase engagement with the sciences.  

Our team ran color contrasts at the beginning of the project to determine what color combinations would follow the guidelines. These were then pulled into the final style guide to ensure understanding and adherence going forward.

Accessible Forms

It’s also important to consider accessibility for things that are seemingly as mundane as forms. Use clear labels and fieldsets, provide instructions and error messages in a way that is accessible to all users, including those using screen readers or assistive technologies.

Provide Alternative Text

Make sure that any content you’re creating has descriptive alternative text. Just as some signage at swim areas can be tough to decipher if it only has icons on it, we want to make sure we’re supporting web imagery with text which can be read. This goes for images, icons, and non-text content. Alternative text provides that essential context for users who cannot see images, ensuring they can understand the content.This is the final post in a four-part series, Building Trust and Credibility Through Design. If you missed any of the previous parts, read back through or watch the webinar that introduced these topics.

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