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The Importance of Inclusive Web Design

As part of our Inclusivity and Accessibility initiative, we aim to showcase the importance of creating websites and digital experiences that are designed for all.

In this context, we’d like to share some background information about designing websites for inclusivity and accessibility together with some practical pointers. For this, we caught up with Dr Sam Waller, Senior Research Associate as part of the Inclusive Design Group at The University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre.

Sam championed an Inclusive Design Toolkit website, together with a site for eCommerce image recommendations, Vision and Hearing Impairment Simulator software, Cambridge Simulation Gloves and Simulation Glasses. He has developed web applications for calculating the number of people who would be unable to use a product or service.

ADLIB: To start, could you share your take, why does web inclusivity and accessibility matter and do you have some stats to set the scene?

Dr Sam Waller:

In 2018, 58% of site visits were from mobile devices (associated with US web traffic).

Age-related long sightedness (Presbyopia) is a global problem affecting over a billion people worldwide. The prevalence of unmanaged presbyopia is as high as 50% of those over 50 years of age in developing world populations, due to a lack of awareness and accessibility to affordable treatment, and is even as high as 34% in developed countries. (Source.)

Most of the people who design websites and mobile applications do not have age-related long-sightedness. In the absence of any specific instruction otherwise, people will tend to design things so that they themselves can comfortably see the features. Anyone who has better vision than the web developer will likely be able to clearly see these features. However, those with age-related long-sightedness (or any other vision difficulties) find it difficult or impossible to see these features.

ADLIB: Based on your experience (and stats), what are impairments that you think should be considered as a priority by everyone working on or building apps or web presences?

Dr Sam Waller: Lots of accessibility guidelines focus on the importance of ‘alt text’ tags for icons with visual interfaces. While these tags are essential for people using assistive technologies, there is close to zero guidance on ensuring that the icons are sufficiently visually clear for the wider population, and ensuring that icons are clear enough for the large numbers of people with age-related long-sightedness is particularly important, because these people will likely try and interact with the website or application on a mobile device held at arm’s length away, without using any assistive technologies.

ADLIB: Can you share some specific considerations that you think everyone should take into account in the context of smart devices?

Dr Sam Waller: For any device that is intended to be used while handheld, we recommend checking the visual clarity of all aspects of the interface using our freely available SEE-IT tool.

This tool can be used to assess the visual clarity of text or graphics that are handheld. It estimates the number of people who would be unable to perceive such designs quickly and easily. The calculation takes account of the prevalence of age-related long-sightedness within its underlying database.

ADLIB: How can web designers ensure that they have “inclusivity and accessibility” at the forefront of their minds?

Dr Sam Waller: We find the most important first step is to get people to experience the difficulties themselves. For this, we use impairment simulation glasses, so that web designers can experience what it feels like to be frustrated with their own interface, so they start asking themselves things like “why can’t this be visually clearer?”

Thanks so much for sharing, Sam!

The mission of our Creative team is to increase awareness of digital inclusivity and accessibility; to encourage that digital products and websites can be understood, navigated and perceived by everyone and that everyone can interact online and contribute to it. If designing for accessibility and inclusivity is also something you are involved in please do get in touch – we’d love to chat through how we could work together and lead by example.