What is Accessible Design?

Posted by Rochelle Harris on Jun 2nd 2021

What is Accessible Design?

How It Applies To Business Owners 

You may be starting a business, or perhaps you've recently become eligible under the ADA guidelines as a business that must comply with these federal laws. Or maybe you just have a website and are wondering if it needs to be ADA compliant.

Whatever your unique situation maybe, if you're asking what is accessibility in regards to design, this post will discuss exactly what it means, and the difference between universal design or usable design. 

We will also discuss accessibility laws, and guidelines for getting your business and your business website ADA compliant. If you have 15 or more full-time employees, you are more than likely responsible for being ADA compliant.

In addition, even if you just have a business website and no employees, if you deal with the public your website must be ADA compliant. Therefore, we will talk about these aspects of accessible design, as well. 

Basic Definition 

The term "accessible" is now the accepted or preferred term of how we say something is designed with people with disabilities in mind, in order for them to more easily access it. Examples are "accessible restrooms" or "accessible parking".

So what about accessible design, then? Accessibility focuses on a design process that takes into consideration people with disabilities. Accessible design has become the term used when referring to business websites, since it has recently been clarified that websites are indeed included in the ADA, in more recent revisions. 

Accessible design is a design standard that removes barriers that exclude people with a variety of physical and cognitive disabilities. Here in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA is now a federal law signed into existence in 1990.

It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, as well as in any public accommodations (businesses). This means most public places must have a minimum in design standards for accessibility, and these are actual accessibility laws. By addressing accessibility issues as they arise, we create more efficient solutions for the future. 

The ISA 

The ISA stands for the International Symbol of Accessibility and is pictured here, above. It is recognized around the world as such and is required by law to be posted wherever accessible features are, both inside and outside of a business or public space. If you have a physical location of your business, you will need ADA-compliant signs, as well. Be sure you purchase your ADA signage from a sign company that is professional, reputable, and experienced at meeting ADA compliance for accessibility standards, like ADA Central. 

Universal Design 

Universal design is a more broad concept that involves a design process to "create products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." So you can see that the difference is in the slight shift in focus. From accessible designs, which include special alterations and equipment made for people with disabilities, to more inclusive designs, for all people to use. The idea is to eventually create an environment where public spaces have a design where there's no separation necessary for anyone, and equally accessible to all. 

An example of universal design is things like doors that open when you get a certain distance from them (motion sensing) and sidewalks that have curb cuts. Examples of characteristics considered are things like age, gender, stature, culture, language, and learning preference. 

Usability Or Usable Design 

Usability is used to describe a design process that can create products that are easy and efficient to use. A usability engineer considers aspects of the user experience such as the following: 

  • Learnability - a user should be able to easily learn to operate the product and remember how to do it when they return to it later. 
  • Efficiency and Effectiveness - users should be able to perform tasks and achieve goals successfully. 
  • Consistency - products must be easily identifiable and labeled clearly and consistently. 

Therefore, you can see that this concept focuses on products and services, but all three of these design concepts share aspects of one another. The idea, as a whole, is to create a world that is more inclusive to everyone, effective in achieving our goals, and of course, is designed using ADA accessibility guidelines.   

Websites And Accessible Design 

The bottom line is, if you have a business website, it needs to be accessible to people with disabilities. The revisions to the ADA now encompass all information technologies, including hardware and software, as well as - you guessed it - websites, and an accessible user experience.

So what does that mean, exactly, to business owners with websites? It means redesigning it, preferably with a web or graphic designer familiar with web accessibility. The work doesn't have to cost you a lot, however, for assistive technologies to interact with it successfully and help people with disabilities navigate your site, the options must be embedded into it from the start. 

Assistive Technologies 

Thankfully, some of our best resources on technologies today in assisting people with disabilities, explore things of a universal design in nature. For example, screen readers and screen magnifiers are features available that everyone can use and benefit from. And for people with disabilities around the world, these features, including assistive technology software, are absolutely vital.

An inclusive product is one that will benefit people by removing barriers to the development of a more universal design. To create products for usability as tools that aid in the development of a more universal design, is something that will benefit people everywhere. 

Accessibility Standards 

By now you're probably wondering if there are some straightforward guidelines for becoming ADA compliant on your business's website. The World Wide Web Consortium, also known as W3C, is the authority on web standards. They refer people to the WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, a comprehensive guide for doing just that. 

You can find that here.   

The idea is to provide through specialized design, an equivalent user experience for people with disabilities, in this particular environment. Web design should focus on being user-friendly for people with disabilities, and designers who specialize in accessibility and working with assistive technology can show you how it's done.

In addition, there are tools and resources that have been developed for business owners to help them overcome barriers that may prevent someone with a disability from interacting with their business website, whether your focus is on goods or services.

For example, there are visual design themes that have been developed for web design considered more easily usable by those with a visual disability. And don't forget your app for any mobile device, when revamping your website.

Businesses converting to a more inclusive design will also be opening their doors to another 26% of the population, giving accessible design another great reason to switch over and become ADA compliant! 

ADA Central 

ADA Central is your resource for ADA-compliant signage at your physical location and for accurate information on what your business needs for becoming ADA compliant.

We are professional, fast, experienced, and reasonably priced. We do custom ADA signs or have a huge stock to choose from. Contact us today when you need ADA signs for your business or for more information anytime.