Demystifying accessibility in software development: Importance, principles, and Vaadin's approach

Ibrahim Alkali
Ibrahim Alkali
On Jul 20, 2023 4:08:22 PM
In Product

In this blog, explore accessibility best practices in software development and learn how to prioritize inclusivity in your business application by leveraging Expert-On-Demand hours and Vaadin's Accessibility Review.

In today's digital landscape, ensuring accessibility is no longer an afterthought but an essential aspect of building inclusive and user-friendly applications. Accessible apps are good for business; they are easier for users and considering every type of user is a way to stay ahead of competing products.

The scope of accessibility: From permanent disabilities to situational challenges

Accessibility means designing and implementing a product or service in a way that a wide variety of people can use it. Ultimately, accessibility aims to minimize the exclusion of people with disabilities. Disabilities can be visual, cognitive, auditory, physical, etc. Depending on the type, they can have an effect on how a person accesses products or services.

When thinking about disabilities, permanent disabilities often come to mind. However, a disability could be temporary, such as when a person has a broken wrist; this could affect how they use a mouse or keyboard. It can also be situational; for example, a person working in a noisy environment could face difficulties perceiving auditory information. It is also worth noting that disabilities vary considerably in type, severity, and impact they have on an individual’s ability to interact with the environment. There is a spectrum, so a disability like blindness could vary from complete lack of sight to less severe forms like color blindness or night blindness.

The importance of accessibility in software development

Generally, improving accessibility for disabled persons also leads to a net improvement in user experience for every other user. This is known as the “curb cut effect.” For example, a ramp is necessary for a person in a wheelchair to access a building. However, it also benefits individuals feeling fatigued, as they can enjoy the ease of access the ramp offers.

In software development, accessibility has often been ignored or deprioritized in favor of building more features and fixing bugs. Statistically, 16% of the world’s population has some form of disability. Therefore, poor accessibility isolates or creates challenges for a potentially large number of people. Additionally, accessibility laws are becoming commonplace, so poor accessibility can lead to lawsuits. In workplace applications, poor accessibility reduces employee satisfaction and hampers productivity.

Introducing the POUR Principle for Accessibility

The hesitance to build accessible products and services often stems from a lack of understanding of the requirements and how to approach fixing the issues. To address this, the POUR principle provides a structured way of understanding the requirements and sets guidelines for designers and developers to build accessible digital content. POUR stands for:

  • PerceivableInformation and controls presented on interfaces should be perceivable to all users, regardless of their abilities. This means providing text with an appropriate size and contrast and ensuring that components are clearly presented. To cater to all users, images should be represented with alternative text, and videos should have captions and transcripts. Nowadays, users also enjoy the option of changing the user interface (UI) between light and dark modes to match their preferences.

  • Operable - User interface controls should be operable by all individuals. It is important to provide multiple alternatives for operation instead of relying solely on one input method. For example, using a computer mouse can be a significant challenge for individuals with mobility issues. Therefore, an interface should cater to keyboard-only users. Additionally, some individuals rely on switch devices as an alternative to keyboards and mice. By offering diverse input methods, the UI becomes more inclusive and accessible to a wider range of users.
  • Understandable - Cognitive disabilities can affect how individuals understand content. Using simple, clear, and concise language for the content is imperative. The hierarchy and order of information assist in understanding.
  • Robust - Content should adapt to the large variety of devices from which users access it. Some users rely on special assistive devices to access content. Ensuring code quality and following standard development practices guarantees that applications are robust and do not fall apart for some users. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) outlines the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the international standard for making web content accessible. Designers and developers can also utilize ChatGPT as a resource for getting answers to specific accessibility questions.

Prioritizing accessibility from design to development: Vaadin's approach

To ensure accessibility, it is crucial to consider it from the early stages of the project. Right from the design phase, factors such as font choice, color selection, content presentation, and visual hierarchy should be carefully considered to promote inclusivity. Subsequently, writing high-quality code is essential to ensure accessibility requirements are met.

At Vaadin, accessibility is a key consideration in the design of our components. The components are continuously improved to ensure the highest level of accessibility. By providing accessible building blocks, Vaadin facilitates the process of building inclusive accessible products. 

Vaadin experts can also provide the expertise and guidance needed to ensure accessibility is prioritized throughout your application's development process, resulting in an inclusive and user-friendly product. A Design System can be utilized to ensure consistent reuse of accessible components across the entire product.

For existing products that have been around for a long time, figuring out accessibility changes can be tough if it hasn’t been considered during development. Vaadin’s Accessibility Review simplifies this. Our accessibility experts perform a comprehensive review of the existing application, record findings, and produce a report highlighting areas for improvement. A well-thought-out plan is formulated, giving priority to aspects that have a higher impact on overall accessibility. Enhancements or nice-to-haves are given less priority; this approach delivers the highest value for the resources available.

To learn more about the services we offer, please contact us or book an accessibility review -> 

Ibrahim Alkali
Ibrahim Alkali
Ibrahim works as a Designer at Vaadin, planning and implementing top-class UX for customer projects.
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