Making Web Services Accessible for Everyone

Cynthia Ng
September 7, 2016

squirrel eating seeds nanand. (2008). Lunch! CC BY 2.0
sleeping red panda Appel, M. (2015). Sleeping Red Panda. Public Domain

What is Web Accessibility?

Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web.

- W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

W3C Web Accessibility Initiative. (2005). What is Web Accessibility. Introduction to Web Accessibility.

Why Should You Care?

Disability > Minority*

* Based on 2010 US census percentage of total population with a disability, and the percentage of total population of minorities.

Policy & Legislation

  • The Rehabilitation Act (Section 504 and 508)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • state legislation
  • organizations, grants, etc.


  • findable
  • accessible
  • usable
  • shareable
  • and more!

Approach to Accessibility

Avoid the peanut butter approach.

- Sarah Horton & Whitney Quesenbery

Horton, S. & Quesenbery, W. (2014). A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences. Rosenfeld Media.
It just won't work to build a complete system and then, in the final stages of development, spread the interface over it like peanut butter.

- Clayton Lewis & John Rieman

Lewis, C. & Rieman, J. (1994). Task-Centered User Interface Design: A Practical Introduction.
squirrel with its head in a peanut butter jar shrosa814. (2010). Tale of Squirrel and Peanut Butter. With Permission from Owner.

Designing for Assistive Technology

Example Development Process

  1. Develop the website.
  2. Add or adjust things to work with screen readers.
  3. Launch (may happen before #2).

What is Assistive Technology?

an umbrella term that includes [...] devices for people with disabilities [...] by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to, or changing methods of interacting with, the technology needed to accomplish such tasks.

- Wikipedia

Assistive technology. (2016, August 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Examples of Assistive Technology

  • screen readers
  • text-to-speech
  • screen magnifiers
  • joysticks
  • mobile devices
  • keyboards
All Technology is Assistive Technology.

- Sara Hendren @ablerism

Hendron, S. (2013). All Technology is Assistive Technology: 6 dispositions for designers on disability.
table with over 30 android devices animoca. (2012). All the Myriad Androids. CC-BY-ND 3.0
Move away from the approach of building separately for disabled users, and concern yourself with creating clean, beautiful, usable, and accessible websites.

- Debra Riley-Huff

Riley-Huff, D. A. (2012). Web Accessibility and Universal Design. Library Technology Reports, 48(7), 29-35.

Universal Design

Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

- Ron Mace

Mace, R. (1998). Universal design in housing. Assistive Technology, 10(1), 21-28.

Universal Design Principles

  • equitable
  • flexible
  • simple
  • intuitive
  • low effort
  • approachable
  • usable

Examples from Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

  • Each page should have a title.
  • Have consistent navigation.
  • Have a meaningful order to content.
  • Provide multiple ways to discover content.
  • Captions or transcript of audio/video.

Building Universal (Web) Services

It is important for designers to formulate and adhere to usable design processes and guidelines throughout the entire cycle of development so that the product or service is accessible and universally usable for all.

- Constantine Stephanidis

Stephanidis, C. (2009). Universal access and design for all in the evolving information society. In C. Stephanidis (ed.), The Universal Access Handbook (1–11). Boca Raton: CRC Press.
red panda face palm ProphetTenebrae. (2012). Red panda face palm.

Ask Your Users


  • technological variety
  • user diversity
  • bridging the knowledge gap
Shneiderman, B., & Hochheiser, H. (2001). Universal usability as a stimulus to advanced interface design. Behaviour & Information Technology, 20(5), 367-376. doi:10.1080/01449290110083602

Understanding Your Users

Florida Public Library website in greyscale
Example of Fangs output

Getting User Feedback


screenshot of example personas University of Washington Libraries. (2008). UW Libraries Personas.

Content Inventory

screenshot of content inventory spreadsheet

Card Sort

picture of sticky notes

Task Analysis

picture of whiteboard with writing and screenshots Reidsma, M. (2013). Slide 38. Websites are for People. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Developing Your Service

picture of paper mockup


Mobile forces you to focus and enables you to innovate in ways you previously couldn’t.

- Luke Wroblewski

Wroblewski, L. (2011). Mobile First. New York: A Book Apart.
Worry about the less capable first.

- Swwweet

Usobiaga, J. (2013). Slide 37. Mobile First: As difficult as doing things right.
screenshots of CAPER-BC website at different view size

Some Good Practices

Some “Special” Considerations


  • Images: alt=""
  • Audio: transcript
  • Video: transcript
  • Video: captions
  • Video: descriptive audio
  • More A/V: controls, no autoplay
  • Warning! Check the carousel.

Skip Links

<a class="hide-text" href="#main">Skip to Main Content</a>

<nav role="navigation">
	// Menu

<div id="main" role="main">
	 // Content

Schofield, M. (2014). ARIA for the Spec Impaired.

Keyboard Accessibility

search field with outline search field with outline


Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite

<div role="alert">
	// warning
For more on ARIA, check out the WAI-ARIA Overview

Assessing Your Service



Guidelines for Your Content Creators

  1. Be clear and concise.
  2. Use headers and tables properly.
  3. Use descriptive links.
  4. Describe images if needed.
  5. Make or choose videos with captions.

Accessibility Statement

Putting It All Together

I’ve learned that what matters [...] is an actionable process — possible to use, adapted to the company’s culture and financially effective.

- Marcin Treder

Treder, M. (2012). Beyond Wireframing: The Real-Life UX Design Process. Smashing Magazine.
The goal of universal usability is to enable the widest possible range of users to benefit from information and communication services.

- Ben Shneiderman

Shneiderman, B., & Hochheiser, H. (2001). Universal usability as a stimulus to advanced interface design. Behaviour & Information Technology, 20(5), 367-376. doi:10.1080/01449290110083602

Take Aways

Until people find themselves in a situation where they are disabled due to their surroundings, they cannot fully appreciate how the built and virtual environments can throw obstacles in their paths – and indeed, profoundly affect their quality of life.

- City of Calgary

City of Calgary. (2010). Universal Design Handbook.
Universal usability is simply good design.

- Jonathan Lazar

Lazar, J. (2007). Universal usability: designing computer interfaces for diverse user populations. Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons.



nodoka holding a stack of books