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Accessibility testing and universal design

Accessibility is the concept of ensuring that everyone can equally use a particular digital asset, whether it is a website or an application. It is more than just making sure that people who are physically challenged have equal access. True accessibility benefits everybody. It benefits both the user and the developer by providing access to digital resources in multiple ways. And the path to accessibility lies in the understanding of universal design.
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Universal design is based on the concept of taking the needs of diverse users into account right from the initial design through to the final product.  In order for universal design to be effective it must follow certain principles.

The first principle is that of equitable use.  This means that an application is designed to be usable by people with different levels of ability.  This includes not stigmatizing or excluding particular users while providing for equivalent ways in which people with different abilities can use the software.

Flexibility is also an important part of universal design.  An application or website should be flexible enough to accommodate people with different physical challenges.  It should also assist the user in being accurate and precise.  This isn’t a new idea and has been used in the development of hand tools for at least a century.

When it comes to software, flexibility is achieved through communication.  An application or website should present, or at least be capable of presenting, the same information in different ways.  These ways need to be compatible with the possible limitations that users might have.  This includes such things as audible as well as written instructions, and the ability to present information in ways that are accessible to those who are physically impaired.  Communication is a two way street and any application should be capable of receiving input in various ways.

And finally, accessibility is and always was a specialized activity which begins by eliminating complexity.  Such simplification includes intuitive design attributes, such as placing the more important information first and keeping consistency with regard to input and output.

Accessibility testing should take all of the above into account as part of a comprehensive UX testing process.  By adhering to the principles of universal design throughout the software development cycle, developers can be assured that the application or website under development meets a high standard of accessibility.

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