Accessibility and user experience are almost inseparable in 2020. And, with the “digital transformation” of our world speeding up, user experience (UX) is taking a front row seat.

Accessibility and User Experience (UX) in 2020

Most of us were already conducting some of our personal and professional lives online. We think nothing of hopping on an app to order take-out, shop for groceries, plan a vacation, check our bank accounts, surf social media, or watch what’s trending on Netflix. A recent statistic shows that 13 million people in Latin America made their first-ever online purchase in 2020. Meanwhile, the pandemic has more of us routinely participate in virtual meetings and engage in online conversations. Article after article shows that 2020 is speeding up our digital evolution. As one writer puts it, “five-year” technology plans seem to be happening in just “10 weeks.”

“Usability” — making sure the user experience (or “UX”) is easy, intuitive, and helpful — has become a top priority. And that’s good news, because we know that greater usability means greater accessibility.

Accessibility is at the forefront of user experience

Our newest technologies offer accessibility features that improve communication for everyone. For example, we can engage the microphone to send a text instead of slowly typing out the message. Today, many of us ask Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Apple Siri to instantly act on our voice commands. How about “smart” word processing software that suggests how we finish our sentences? (And, is that a good or bad thing for our cognitive function?)

Each of these technologies make our digital lives easier by making features more “usable” and more accessible. One of our most popular posts discussed “accessibility” as a natural extension of “usability.” It turns out, many developers and designers feel the same way.

We can do better than just ‘usability’

In his article, “We Can Do Better Than Usability,” customer experience strategist Arp Dragfyy highlights the “Evolution of UX Experience.” Design focus has moved from physiological needs (1990s) to safety and security (2000s), and again from social needs (2010s) to self-actualization (2020s).

Timeline displaying design changes by decade. 1990: Physiological Needs; 2000: Safety and Security; 2010: Social Needs; 2020: Self-Actualization.

Dragffy says, “UX has the potential to be much more than simply usable; it should also be compassionate and impactful.” We couldn’t agree more. And that’s why we made accessibility (and usability) a focus of our website design.

Leading the way with UserWay

At Akoio, we want to make sure you can navigate our site and access everything easily. So, we recently launched the accessibility widget developed by UserWay.

The UserWay usability icon at the right of the Akoio.com website

When viewing our site, you’ll notice the accessibility icon at the right of the screen. Clicking this icon opens the UserWay menu:

  • sKeyboard Navigation
  • Read Page
  • Contrast
  • Highlight Links
  • Bigger Text
  • Text Spacing
  • Pause Animations
  • Legible Fonts
  • Cursor
  • Tooltips

Each menu option changes the appearance or adds functionality to the page. Thus, the tool makes it easier to see, read, and navigate the site. The “Keyboard Navigation” option allows you to browse the site using your keyboard’s tab and arrow keys. Click the “Read Page” option to turn on the screen reader. (You can even adjust the reader’s speed).

The UserWay accessibility menu

Other menu buttons change the visual appearance, from bigger font size to deeper contrast and more. Although using the tool takes just seconds, we want your next visit to be even simpler. So, the widget remembers your user preferences for next time.

Examples of contrast using the accessibility widget

The UserWay screen reader is “fluent” in 30 different languages. So, you can use your browser to translate the page, and the UserWay reader will adopt the new language. UserWay combines all of these tools into a single plugin. And it works on almost any website. Thus, the widget brings to life Dragfyy’s ideas about usability and compassion. And, it is ADA, CVAA, Section 508, and EN 301 549 compliant.

Bonus: If you like its functionality, you can add UserWay to your own site for free.

The Law of Accessibility

Laws have been established to protect those with unique abilities, and businesses are paying attention. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability. And Courts are finding that Title III of the ADA includes website accessibility. Another important piece of legislation, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, requires government agencies to make websites accessible to those with disabilities. You can read more from the Federal Register.

But there are even more important reasons to make our websites, our businesses, and our communities more accessible. According to The World Bank, 15% of the world’s population experiences some form of a disability. That’s about 1 in 7 people. We want and need these voices, talents, and experience. As we’ve seen time and time again, being more inclusive leads to better living for everyone. So, we encourage everyone hosting a website, creating an app, or launching new software, to be mindful and proactive about user experience, about usability, and about accessibility.

What’s next?

We see progress each and every day with UX and accessibility. If you had a magic wand, what would be your next wish granted for those experiencing hearing loss and seeking a more accessible world? Please let us know what you think about the functionality of our website, including our UserWay widget. Do you use a different accessibility tool?

Our goal at Akoio is to bring those passionate about hearing wellness together. So, please like and share our Facebook page and share content that may help others. We look forward to the future as we learn together to conquer life.

Bill Schiffmiller is the CEO and Founder of Akoio, a company dedicated to providing products and services tailored to the needs of people with hearing loss. A life-long hearing aid user and hearing wellness advocate, Bill was the former Accessibility Advocate for Apple, Inc., and received his Master of Professional Studies degree in Design Management at Pratt Institute.