Accessibility For Web Design

These are the notes from Derek Featherstone's course on accessibility in web design. It's a fairly quick course full of good stuff, I reommend checking it out.

Making something accessible doesn't just mean technology. It also means good design, development, and content.

Personas/Psychographic Profiles

Use personas or psychographic profiles to check that you are meeting people's needs. Personas and psychographic profiles represent mindsets, motivations, goals, as well as functional needs. When you are designing, ask how each of your personas would use what you are building. Would they use it the way you expected? If they don't, does it still work? Would they be happy using it? What would they be missing?




1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are colorblind. That is 320 million people worldwide!

Use different shapes and/or lines, or assistive text to not rely on color. You can and should still use color though, because it is nice and aids in usability for those that can see color.

Let's say you have a component which relies on color. What are some ways you can make it accessible? Some common strategies are utilizing shapes or patterns alongside color, properly organizing content so that color is not the only thing distinguishing the order, or adding further textual elements.

For example, how could one convey success or failure alongside color to not rely solely on green and red? Some ideas are:

Using multiple methods to convey the meaning is the best way to ensure that the meaning gets across, regardless of ability.

Contrast Requirements

The appropriate amount of contrast between foreground and background text are set by WCAG, specifically from their 2.0 spec:

Use contrast checker[3] to see if colors work well together, and Jonathan Snook's color contrast checker[3], which lets you modify the colors to get them where you want with regard to the WCAG guidelines.

When developing a design system, always use compliant colors and show warnings for colors that should not be used together.

Animation and Motion

Animation and motion are cool for design but can cause vertigo, nausea, or headaches for some people with vestibular disorders. We need to use animation responsibly.

People with photosensitive epilepsy can be triggered by flashing lights, as content flashing more than three times per second can trigger seizures. Content warnings should be used if flashing lights are present.

Low Vision

[Having low vision is] like looking through a straw all the time.

To test usability for those with low vision, use the straw test: get a straw or hold up your fist and look through it at your content. This limits your view considerably and renders a lot of otherwise benign components unusable.

A design principle that you can use to help those with low vision is the principle of proximity: related elements should be grouped together near one another to show their relationships.

Keyboard Usage

Keyboard usage is not just for the non-sighted, but also for those with physical ailments or restrictions, like arthritis. This means that it isn't just about people using screen readers, you also need to make a nicely visible focus that is easy to recognize as they tab through your site.

Though using outline: none; and not replacing it is not helpful to meet the end of visible focus outlines, using it and replacing it is, since the default is not visible enough; in dark designs, it's really bad, so make sure that your focus state is visible.

If you remove a native part of the browser, your replacement has to be as good or better.

Plan your :focus states:

Test it fully with a keyboard! Test test test, as Gerard K. Cohen says[4].

Keyboard interaction

You must be able to complete all tasks relevant to your site using a keyboard.

divs are a last resort. Users can't tab onto divs by default. Use the appropriate semantic elements at all times.

Not everything has to be tabbable to be accessible. Focus on the function of the interface and let that guide your decision making.


A keyboard trap is a situation where the keyboard gets stuck in a part of the page. Examples:

These scenarios can be avoided through accurate testing that includes these scenarios, as well as documenting the tab order in the design and what each field should do when interacted with.

Linear Flow

The content should flow linearly when using tabs for a keyboard user. When designing the page, think about the flow of interaction. Using an e-commerce site as an example. You have a billing page with an order summary, billing information, and the button to proceed to the next page.

We can see that the user may want to modify their order before proceeding if the summary is not what they expected. Putting the summary after billing would make this a pain if the billing is already filled out. Similarly, if the 'next' button is in between the two sections and not after, there would be a lot of backtracking to get to where you want to go (or worse, they may not even notice the summary at all and proceed without attending to it). The order becomes much clearer as you view the site through the lens of a keyboard user.

These changes can be purely structural and not affect the design either, making this a trivial change for the developers but a huge win for usability overall.

Touch interfaces

There are many kinds of touch interfaces, beyond the standard "touch":

People are not all the same. We use different fingers, thumbs, combinations, feet, toes, nose, or none of those to do stuff. Some people may never touch the screen at all. It must work for everyone.

Target sizes for guidance

These may not even be big enough! Make your targets bigger and make them accessible. Your design should accommodate these sizes at least.


Gestures are useful for accessibility, allowing unsighted users to traverse a page easily and generally map complex interactions to be used more easily by more people. However, not all people can use them. Can these gestures have alternatives like double clicking or alternatives that are less precise?

For gestures and their documentation with regard to accessibility, check Microsoft, Apple and Google's docs.

If what you want conflicts with a gesture that already exists, use something else. Don't rely on the one option, provide a different one!

Last but not least, how would the operation work if the gesture couldn't be done?


To make media accessible, we first need to understand the purpose of the content. This means that we know what the producers and the consumers of this media need.

For instance, in educational content, students may use videos by pausing and rewinding a lot to study, going frame by frame, speeding it up or slowing it down, zooming in, etc. For podcasts, this could mean downloading the content for offline use, reading a transcript, or scanning the podcast for certain sections using the web player. Consider how people create and consume the content being provided and make performing those actions accessible.

Text Equivalents

There are three different content types:

The text equivalents provided must be equivalent. Show notes are not a substitute for a podcast. Cliff notes are not a substitute for a book.

For images, alt tags are not required if there is text associated with or directly next to the image itself. For instance, if you have a page for a shirt for sale with different colors to select, you don't need alt text for a blue swatch that has the word "Blue" next to it. You can use an empty alt tag (alt="") to ensure assistive technologies skip the image description.

alt text is not just for reading out the correct thing. Voice recognition software requires that be accurate as well. For instance, if you have a link with an image that has "Click here" rasterized into the image but with no alt text attached, you can't say "Click 'click here' link", since "click here" is not written anywhere for the technology to recognize. It might recognize it if you say "Click 'button-click-here.png' link", but obviously that's not anywhere near a solution.

Ask yourself:

Videos can provide captions for deaf users, but need audio descriptions for blind users. Audio descriptions are a text equivalent of the functional and informational video content, but sometimes you want all three types in there.


Label forms using label elements so that there is a relationship between the field and the text supporting it. This makes the prompts clearer, bigger click/touch targets, and acts as a memory aid for those with memory problems.

Every form field needs a label, or if necessary an ARIA label (e.g. aria-labelled-by). This helps with assistive technology, too, as the labels will give context in what to select or use. There should be one to one relationships for labels to fields.

Placeholder Attributes

While placeholders are helpful, having the placeholder disappear sucks if you have memory issues. Placeholders also can make people think it's already filled out and be confusing. Having low vision makes placeholders pretty difficult to read. An alternative that works okay is a label that visually rests in the field itself and on selection, moves out of the way. Regardless, a programmatic label must be visible.

HTML5 Form Inputs

Types like tel, email, and password add extra useful information for all users. Mobile devices use them to create specific interfaces for users, but desktop is not there yet. However, in the future, this semantic information could become very useful and should be used to futureproof your sites.

Validation and Errors

Validation is hard to get right, but here are some guidelines to make it a little easier. It should:

Think of how your errors work in your design:

Visual Flexibility

Which resolution do we design for? All of them. Design with flexibility in mind, allowing resizing, magnification, and better scrolling.

Reflowing content

Linear order matters; your content should be in a logical order.

A tablet does not mean they are using touch. Viewport size does NOT mean they are using a specific device!

Flexibility allows different line lengths, text sizes, and zoom levels. Remember that everything can be changed and your site still must work. You can set zoom to only affect text, so that images and other media stays put. You should be able to resize to 200% and everything should still be usable. At all sizes, your site should:


Your content should be written in a way that lets people make decisions quickly. If someone only read the headings on your page, would they be able to understand what's going on? The first sentence of each paragraph?

Page titles are important. They are the first thing announced when visiting a page, and it confirms the user is at the right place. The titles should be unique and should go from specific to general (e.g. Order Form -- ZomboCom Industries. The page title and the h1 tag should be symbiotic and assist each other.

Use meaningful markup within the page in the way it was designed to be used. Use the HTML that makes the most semantic sense. The least semantic elements are div, span, and section. Use these only if necessary.


  1. Accessibility for Web Design course from Derek Featherstone
  2. "Color Accessibility Workflows" by Garri Coady
  3. Contrast checker and Jonathan Snook's color contrast checker

Last modified: 202301132000