Summer 2018 might as well be known as summer of the straw ban. Major U.S. cities and large corporations like Starbucks and American Airlines have vowed to ban or stop providing single-use plastic straws. Environmentalists see plastic straws as a “gateway plastic” that will diminish the public’s dependence on single-use plastic objects.

While the environmental impacts are trending positively, and the reduction of plastic waste is an initiative everyone should get behind, there are unintended consequences to this outright ban for people with disabilities. For some in the disabled community, plastic straws have a significant impact on their everyday lives, and could even be a matter of life or death.

Nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a disability, a total of about 56.7 million people. So, it’s critical to ensure that your designs do not unintentionally alienate any group by keeping everyone in mind as you go through the design process. When starting a new project, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not designing for yourself, but instead, for a diverse set of users.

Design Rules to Live by for Accessibility

Use Clear Language

To get your message across on your website or new advertising campaign, make sure to use plain language. This will help users to understand the message you are trying to send and will help boost engagement.

When writing, make sure you’re using language that fits with the audience you are targeting. Bring additional clarity to your work by providing definitions for unusual words and abbreviations.

Another language barrier to consider is the use of American idioms in your text. What might be clear to you or your colleagues could be problematic for the English-as-a-second-language audience. Take for example the idiom “up in the air” – part of your audience might think that something is floating in the sky rather than an unresolved issue.

You can Never go Wrong with High Contrast

To help users with low vision, color blindness, or visual impairment, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have set the contrast ratio between text and its background to be at least 4.5 to 1. The contrast ratio does not only consider the font color and background color, but also font weight and size.

To check your contrast ratio in your next design, use WebAIM’s contrast checker.

Always use Alternative (ALT) Text

When posting visual elements to your website, if you’re not using ALT tags, you’re doing it wrong. Alt tags should clearly describe the visual being displayed on your website. This will help visually impaired users that are using screen readers to have a better understanding of the image or visuals on the page.

Alt text not only helps the information on your website be accessible to all, it also helps improve your website’s SEO.

Captions in Video

As Ellen wrote in her post earlier this year, video is taking over the internet. A whopping 82% of all consumer internet traffic is now video. As digital advertisers vie for a piece of this traffic, it’s important to make sure your videos are accessible to all by using closed captioning.

Facebook reported that by adding closed captioning to your video, it could boost the view time by 12%. This is the perfect example of accessibility design creating an overall stronger product.

Vox does a great job captioning the videos they share from their social profiles. Watch the video below, first with sound, then without sound. Do you feel like you take away the same information?

It is vital in any design work to make sure that it is accessible to as many users as possible. By making your project design accessible to all, you are creating a better experience for everyone.

Rebecca McTear