Accessibility, Barrier Free Design, Universal Design

Accessibility is of great importance on the web. When it comes to showcasing your content you can use text, images, audio and video or a mixture of all four, but it is essential to pay mind to users who may need to use assistive technologies. Happily some of the techniques for maximising the accessibility of a site also make your site more attractive to Search Engines and can also benefit all users. It seems like a no-brainer doesn’t it.

So, what is accessible design?

The W3C (The World Wide Web Consortium) has put together some Accessibility Guidelines for use by Web Design agencies and they define accessible design as having four essential criteria. These are:

  • Forgiveness
  • Operability
  • Perceptibility
  • Simplicity


This is all about minimising the amount of possible errors the user can make on your site. One of the ways to achieve this is to make sure form controls do just the job they are intended for and nothing else. Building in forgiveness also helps minimise confusion for the user which is always a good thing.


This is the area that most people think of when they hear of Accessibility. It involves making sure the site is of use to people who use assistive technologies. This is getting easier to do as certain advances in web technologies has allowed some of the inaccessible techniques once used by web designers to fall by the wayside. For example the rise of using web fonts has allowed the designer to stop using images to display text which helps users who may need screen readers to review the content of a page.


Within Perceptibility the user must be able to perceive the design of your website or application. This is important regardless of the ability of the user. Lets look at an example: If a given user has a visual deficiency, images may be redundant but the meaning or content of them can be conveyed through using the alt attribute or the longdesc attribute.


This for me is the cornerstone of all design and a good mantra for life in general.

Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.

Henry David Thoreau.

Don’t set users a steep learning curve in order to use your site or application as they are likely to go looking elsewhere for the information, service or product they want or need.