If you’re like most designers, you’re committed to providing seamless experiences for everyone who uses your website, app, or digital product. And with the disability community accounting for 1.3 billion people worldwide, designing for all users means considering the needs of people with disabilities. Since many disabilities impact the ways in which users interact with digital content, accessible design is key to ensuring everyone can access, and fully benefit from, an experience. But even if you know accessibility is something you should prioritize, you may be unsure how to get started embedding it in your day-to-day work. In this post, we’ll explain why proactive designers are essential to an effective digital accessibility practice and outline four practical steps you can take to begin designing for users of all abilities.

Digital accessibility starts with design

Digital accessibility is often assumed to be a purely technical problem—but designers’ leadership is critical to providing equitable experiences for all users. When designers don’t account for accessibility, barriers may slip undetected into digital experiences, negatively impacting usability. Additionally, many common accessibility issues caught in development or testing (such as problems with form accessibility, and missing controls for video and audio content) originate in design. By proactively incorporating accessibility into new concepts, you can prevent having to revisit completed and approved designs to fix problems flagged later on in the development life cycle.

Four tips for kickstarting your accessible design practice

As a designer, taking the initiative to address accessibility ensures all users can fully benefit from the experiences you create. Even if your organization is already conducting accessibility testing in development or quality assurance (QA), designing for users’ diverse needs is a cornerstone of an efficient, effective digital accessibility practice. And with the right approach, incorporating accessibility into your designs doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. Use the following four steps to get started.

1. Build your skills through training

Before you can start designing with accessibility in mind, you’ll want to gain a foundational understanding of accessible design principles and best practices. While tools and plugins can help you catch common accessibility barriers (more on this in the next section), building your own knowledge and skills will allow you to work more efficiently, and intuitively approach new projects through the lens of accessibility. Consider enrolling in role-specific accessibility training courses, like the courses on user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design in our online Academy, and review resources from accessible design experts. Additionally, take time to learn about the different ways in which users with disabilities interact with the digital world (the Worldwide Web Consortium, or W3C, has published helpful educational videos on this subject). This type of general awareness training will help you better empathize with users—and we probably don’t have to tell you that empathy is key to great user experience design.

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2. Use tools to proactively embed accessibility in your design process

While building your own knowledge will help you avoid common errors, you’re only human—and chances are, some accessibility barriers will slip through the cracks. For this reason, it’s wise to take advantage of tooling to proactively review and validate the accessibility of your designs. Plus, checking your own work can help you hone your skills as you learn how to avoid repeating the same mistakes. A variety of tools, including color contrast checkers and plugins, are available to help you ensure that your work meets accessibility standards. In fact, we recently launched an accessibility plugin for Figma that you can use to quickly identify and fix accessibility issues in components while you work.

Introducing the Level Access Figma plugin

Our new plugin for designers can be downloaded from the Figma Community space and it provides a simple, efficient way for our customers to incorporate accessibility into their day-to-day workflows. Whether you’re creating a new user interface (UI) or making design updates to an existing digital experience, you can use the plugin to test the accessibility of components like buttons, links, checkboxes, and text input fields. Simply scan a component with the plugin to reveal a list of accessibility issues—and apply fixes directly to your design with a single action.

3. Seek out professional accessibility reviews

With the right tooling and training, you’re well on your way to designing engaging, easy-to-use experiences for everyone. But as every creative knows, it’s always wise to get an additional perspective on your work. And if you’re approaching a larger-scale project—such as a website redesign or a new campaign style guide—you’ll want to run your drafts by an accessibility expert. Our solution includes an option for this: our Design Evaluations service enables designers to submit new concepts for review by design accessibility testing experts, including native users of assistive technologies. Obtaining a comprehensive, independent review is a valuable step toward ensuring that a design project meets accessibility standards, as well as a learning opportunity that can help your team close skill and knowledge gaps.

4. Get expert help to solve problems—without taxing your budget

As your team scales its accessibility practice, challenges and complex situations can arise. It’s important to have access to accessible design experts who can help you untangle both tactical and process issues as you build a new skill set and establish new ways of working. Forging partnerships with experienced professionals can validate that you’re moving in the right direction, and help you get back on track if an unexpected problem causes you to temporarily veer off course. While your partners should be knowledgeable and reliable, you don’t want your questions to rack up bills and fees. Level Access provides unlimited support from accessibility experts, so you can reach out for help anytime, without having to renegotiate contracts or manage invoices. Additionally, our team includes accessible design leaders like Karen Hawkins and Dana Randall, so you’ll have access to the most trusted authorities in the space.

Everything you need to design for every user

Incorporating accessibility into your design practice doesn’t need to feel daunting—and you don’t need to do it alone. With resources like training, tooling, and third-party expertise, you can feel confident taking a proactive role in digital accessibility at your organization by designing enjoyable, intuitive experiences for all users. At Level Access, we know that digital accessibility starts in ideation and design, and we’re committed to empowering designers with the technology, guidance, and expert insight needed to ensure usability for everyone. To learn more about our design solution, engage with our team today.