Why build a product that can’t be used by everyone? With the Revised 508 Standards now in effect, federal agencies have an opportunity to change the way they implement solutions and make them accessible to as many people as possible. Technology leaders in the private sector have adopted universal design to create solutions that are inclusive and accessible for a wider user base. These leaders don’t see accessibility as an add-on to development, but as a key part of the overall design and user experience journey. This mindset results in more innovative solutions with improved functionality and an enhanced user experience.
Here are five ways you can adopt universal design principles to implement accessible products for all.
Research and understand your user base and capture specific requirements in a persona. Personas depict a “typical” member of a customer group, and can help organizations gain a better understanding of user needs. Develop personas at the start of a project and interview representatives from these user groups, including people with accessibility needs. This process helps to build relationships between designers and users, enabling a dialogue around accessibility. Designers can share these personas with developers, allowing accessibility to become a functionality requirement. By designing with accessibility in mind, agencies can guarantee they’re meeting the needs of their user base regardless of ability.
As technology advances, more companies are outsourcing development and design functions, to keep costs low and remain competitive. However, this approach is not effective when building accessible technologies with universal design principles. Gartner Research recommends connecting development and design teams from the start of a project, to prevent a disconnect between the two teams. In the beginning, designers work to build personas to understand how a new solution meets users’ needs. Developers can use this understanding to assess whether a solution can be built to satisfy the design. This collaborative relationship between design and development relies on regular communication between these teams, to ensure solutions meet the needs of all users. In the build phase, roles reverse; developers take the lead, and the design team follows up to ensure that the development adheres to design and user needs. Implement processes that connect design and development teams to encourage greater communication about accessibility.
It’s essential to involve users throughout the development, build, and test phases. Users with disabilities who are included in the design process (through persona development, design workshops, and User Acceptance Testing), have more opportunity to provide feedback and flag obvious accessibility issues. Continuous feedback allows developers to fix errors and test changes in a collaborative and iterative way, saving companies money and improving the quality of implementation.
If using an agile methodology, sprints can help to foster a collaborative, flexible and adaptive work environment. Before each sprint, team members highlight any development issues, allowing developers to address them early. Agile doesn’t conform to a one-size-fits-all methodology, which allows for greater flexibility to adapt the final product to be as accessible as possible.
In their Web Accessibility Initiative, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommends regular and consistent communication to maintain awareness and support for accessible IT. Sharing successes on a project can encourage support for accessible IT, and show how agencies are achieving their accessibility goals. Communication is also important to explain and justify implementation challenges that require attention by management and/or the development team. Talking through these challenges can improve understanding of key stakeholders, particularly from a technical standpoint. Capture resolutions as best practices and share with other agencies looking to implement accessible solutions.
Once a product is live, continue to evaluate its functionality and accessibility. As changes are made over time, regularly monitor and maintain the impacts of changes, to avoid creating accessibility issues. Every time a change is made, conduct regression and user testing to make sure the tool remains compliant with accessibility standards and usability requirements. In addition, feedback from this process can contribute to future improvements and developments to keep technology accessible.
It’s possible for agencies to implement accessible products using universal design. Designers and developers need to work together from the start of a project to align around accessibility objectives. To meet user needs, interview customers and create personas to understand their requirements. Continue to involve users throughout the project lifecycle to ensure any changes don’t adversely impact accessibility. If the Federal government can approach accessible IT with a universal design mindset, we can ensure money is spent on solutions that fully satisfy business and user needs. Ultimately, developing a solution with universal design means that agencies can create long-lasting tools that are innovative, cost-effective, and focused on delivering a good customer experience.
Do you have a tip for implementing accessible products using universal design? Share your stories by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.