From POOR to POUR accessibility for your next digital project

Sep 19, 2021   •   3 min read

By Sylvain Reiter
Table of contents

I've talked on here quite a bit about accessibility already, explaining why it's important and how you can go about it on your next digital project. Today I want to take it one step further.

Earlier this week, we organised a training for our entire development team with the Royal National Institute of Blind People here in the UK, and I wanted to share some insights. So today it will be less about the technical solutions or the practicality of how you can implement these solutions for your next website or digital project. I want to focus more on the principles that can guide an entire team, an entire process end to end.

Let's get into it, so you can have a better understanding of why you do accessibility in the first place.

The concept of accessibility principles

For a digital service to be accessible, you can run lengthy audits and have long checklists, or run automated tools that will test your code with hundreds or thousands of criteria... This can be quite overwhelming!

When you start a new project, you need to build a team culture. You need to motivate everyone and make everyone understand the reason why you're doing accessibility, the concepts behind it... because accessibility is not just a checklist of items. You need to actually understand the principles behind it.

For example, a basic accessibility item for developers is to add an ALT tag to all the images in the HTML code. Having the tag in itself and a random piece of text does not actually describe an image and it's not actually helping accessibility, it's not helping visually impaired users understand what the image is about.

POUR guidelines

This is why version 2.0 of the WCAG guidelines became more flexible and encouraged developers and everyone in the digital industry to think through the process more conceptually. They came up with four main guiding principles of accessibility: they form the acronym P - O - U - R.

Those four principles are used to group the various elements of the accessibility guideline and make it more understandable for everyone. So let's look at those four principles.

P for Perceivable

Starting with the P that stands for PERCEIVABLE. It's all about how you make the content available to the end users' senses. Most of the time, it can be visual obviously, making sure that the text is large enough to be read. However, if you think about visually impaired users, blind users might choose screen readers to read out loud the text that's written on the page. Or if you're playing videos, you need to have a written script for deaf users. So all those assistive technologies can perform this conversion, but it's only if the content is designed with accessibility in mind.

O for Operable

The O, the second principle O stands for OPERABLE. It's there because not everyone can use a computer with a mouse or trackpad. It could be due to having a temporary impairment and needing to work with a different input such as the keyboard or speech recognition. Another element of this principle is about error recovery. We all make typos or mistakes when filling forms, so the system that you build need to help users prevent them with clear instructions, validation and confirmation messages for example.

U for Understandable

The third principle U stands for UNDERSTANDABLE. Everyone has a different range of cognitive abilities so again, you need to use clear and concise language, so that everyone can digest information at their own pace. The design and the interface need to be consistent and predictable. For example, a link always goes to a page, a button triggers an action... It's all about using standard HTML format.

R for Robust

The last, the fourth principle R stands for ROBUST. That's about building something that is compatible with the current screens or older browsers, mobile, screen readers and other assistive technologies. The other challenge is that we can't really control how users would access our service. Thinking about the bigger picture and business value for everyone, you need your current investment to keep working in the future, with future technology. There are new devices coming out every few months. Again, using standard coding and sticking to the specifications - following the best practices - will ensure that your system is robust.

All those four principles are required for your end users to have a successful interaction with your digital product. If you follow all of these, this is how you will move from POOR accessibility to an optimised website following those POUR guidelines.

That's it for today, feel free to look at other videos on my channel where I talk about how to implement an accessible website, or where I share a case study of how we've done it for clients.

If you have any questions or need support to improve your digital products' accessibility, just get in touch. Don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel and follow me on Twitter to keep learning with me and grow your career in digital.

Until next time, stay safe and see you soon.

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