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Posted By Phase2 on 05/26/2022

Creating Accessible Experiences: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Creating Accessible Experiences: A Multidisciplinary Approach

At Phase2 we are united in our approach to accessibility—working together as both advocates and practitioners because we believe that creating accessible user experiences is a shared responsibility and is an essential part of our work. 

Here, leaders from UX, Content, and Design share how accessibility is integrated into every step of their creative processes and why it's vital to creating digital products that advance the user experience for all.

How do you approach your work through the lens of accessibility? There are so many individual needs out there; how do you meet them? 

UX: The very nature of our UX practice is to consider, know and advocate for the users. We meet the individual needs of people by being curious and empathetic. Once we understand the problems people are trying to solve and the information they are trying to find, we craft an experience that meets people's needs and aligns with business goals. This isn't about being all things to all people. This is about building the right thing, prioritizing information for what people want, and making sure people can access that information easily and intuitively.

Content: Content should be positioned for maximum impact and designed to be accessible to as many people as possible. At Phase2 we build accessibility into the foundation of all aspects of our content work—from content operations to copywriting. Creating accessible content has the net effect of providing a better content experience for everyone, not just those who rely on a particular “accessible” feature. Accessible content also impacts searchability and findability for all users. 

We create accessible content through several strategies. These include on-page strategies like creating meaningful headers, page titles, and alt and link text. It also includes organizing content into short, scannable paragraphs and adopting plain language standards. By being deliberate, inclusive, and intentional in the language we use, we can reach a wider audience and create meaningful and lasting impact. 

We also advocate for accessibility best practices and provide training and resources to empower our clients to create accessible content on their own. 

Design: While establishing design compositions and the overall design system for a website or application, our design team is always keeping accessibility best practices at top of mind. We bring up accessibility requirements early in the project with clients, typically striving for WCAG AAA compliance whenever possible, but always meeting AA compliance standards. This starts with the basics — selecting typography that is on-brand but also very legible. For example, we want to avoid fonts that include similar character shapes or fonts that are too thin or narrow. While creating our base design components, color contrast is continuously checked to ensure appropriate contrast between foreground and background colors. Color contrast tools help enormously with this testing. The design tool we use, Figma, also provides several great accessibility plug-ins that we integrate into our overall workflow. Our goal from the UI design side is to get ahead of the visual issues before components are built. An important part of the process is collaboration and design critiques. We want to think about the end user whenever possible—from all available devices, screen readers, etc. We want to account for as many visual states as possible to help our frontend build team and make quality assurance testing and launch simpler.

How do you stay up to date on accessibility best practices?

UX: There are many great external resources for learning about accessibility, but we are lucky to also have an internal network that really cares about accessibility and spreads the word about new developments. We also have open conversations with our clients to learn about the issues they are facing on their side, which provides us with new perspectives. We are closely monitoring the progress of WCAG 2.2. to make sure we are aligned with the latest guidelines on accessibility. 

Content: We work in lockstep with our Product, Design and UX teams to ensure that our content best practices are supporting the evolution of accessibility best practices on a broader scale. We also participate in professional development opportunities to enhance our accessibility expertise, such as workshops and conferences.

Design: For starters, this is a very fluid and constantly evolving process at Phase2. We rely on the entire team to bring new resources and knowledge to the group. We use several Slack channels for knowledge sharing and resource links. We have several team members that are passionate about cutting edge web accessibility improvements that make the websites and applications we build even stronger. Phase2 guilds are also a great resource. In the design implementation guild and the accessibility guild, team members from all practices come together to discuss various topics and improvements. The design team follows core guideline resources such as, section, the latest WCAG version 2.1 documentation and, WCAG 2.2 will likely be released in June 2022, so we are continuing to monitor potential adjustments to our design process. We love Smashing Magazine for their frontend development, design, and accessibility knowledge sharing.

What does the future of accessibility look like in your field? 

UX: We are taking greater responsibility for accessibility on the UX side and improving our processes so accessibility considerations are represented in our deliverables and documentation. This gets clients thinking about the issue earlier in the design and development process, laying the groundwork for a truly accessible experience for users.

Content: As technology evolves, it’s important for our strategies to evolve at the same pace to stay current with accessibility best practices. With new technologies come new opportunities for content to support equitable experiences for all of our users.

Design: As stated previously, web accessibility is constantly changing and improving to become a more inclusive experience for all users. Our job is to stay on top of these changes for our clients to ensure their websites and applications are easy to use and navigate for their audience. As we move more into fully immersive experiences that include more motion, animation, and even virtual reality components, we need to always remember the visitors’ goals and tailor the experience to them.

Jennifer Segalini 

Sierra Alvis Robinson 

Matt Curtin 

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