Shift Left – Design for an Inclusive User Experience

There has been an appropriate emphasis in recent years to educate developers on accessibility requirements outlined by the Revised 508 standards and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The development of a repeatable test process, like the Trusted Tester methodology New Editions helped develop, helps to ensure developers receive a consistent message as to what constitutes accessible Information and Communication Technology (ICT). These have been positive steps forward in creating accessible products. However, the focus to “shift left” that we now see beginning to happen has been much needed and will have the greatest impact on increasing the accessibility of ICT.

In the development lifecycle, that ‘left’ starts with designers and business analysts, who play a critical role in developing accessible solutions. User experience (UX) design is an approach to design that takes into account how users think and feel when using the product as well as an understanding of the context for which the product is used. Design teams focus on trying to create the best user experience possible. This can be extremely complex, focusing on the product itself as well as the interface (UI) to ensure a positive reaction from the user.

Taking this a step further, inclusive UX design, also known as Universal UX, includes taking into account different perspectives of users to ensure the design and product are positively perceived. The design team must have empathy and understanding of the diverse perspectives of all of their users to ensure their products are usable and enjoyable by as many people as possible. Though not limited to, this includes people with disabilities, and is where accessibility considerations are key in the design process.

When designing a product, it is vital to include the perspective of users with disabilities in the UX design process to ensure an understanding of the way these users perceive and interact with a product. While it is not always possible to have people with every type of disability involved in the design process, designers have been using personas to help them understand how people with different disabilities might access or use a product. These personas represent a variety of disability types and identify their abilities, aptitudes, and assistive technology they might use to facilitate understanding of how the user might interact with a product. They offer a much-needed perspective and understanding of how people with disabilities perceive and react to the product, that might not be understood otherwise. For example, one persona that New Editions developed for some training videos included a person with a cognitive disability as shown below:

Name Sam
Disability Dyslexia
Age 26


Location Dallas, Texas
Bio Sam was diagnosed with Dyslexia at 14 years old. This means that when he is reading, the letters go out of focus or move around and he gets headaches as a result.
Technology Sam uses Read & Write Gold, a piece of assistive software which allows him to review and create written content on his laptop. He also uses software that highlights text as it reads aloud to him.
Goals To be able to access more content online that is easy to read and understand.
  • Trying to complete tasks online that involve having to take in lots of information that isn’t well structured.
  • Sites that have large chunks of text with moving content or automatically playing videos annoy him.

List of Personas Developed for Client Training

Through the use of personas and other inclusive design tactics, designers are able to realize the need for including accessibility requirements in the basic design framework to ensure the best user experience for people with disabilities. Creative design and usability concepts can expand to include meeting the needs of other diverse populations and accommodate all potential users.