Accessibility & Design

Table of Contents


This document exists to help clear up misunderstandings about Accessibility and give clients a realistic base-understanding of how to approach Accessible design and functionality in their websites and projects that Cantilever helps build and/or maintain.


In an age where we are becoming more aware of the importance and need for accessibility on the web in addition to the IRL world, clients approaching us want us to make sure that everything they’re designing is “as accessible as possible.” This is great!

Even the most physically or mentally fit person is one accident or aging body away from becoming a person with disabilities. Offering spaces and services that are as equitable and hospitable as possible help us remember that we are all people before we are customers or providers. Keeping the marginalized in mind when designing products also produces better products. (FIND THE RESOURCE FOR THIS)

Complicating Factors

To start with “as accessible as possible” is a nebulous term that lacks specificity. Cantilever seeks to check all design and functionality against the standards set in the latest approved version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). There are three levels of guidance, as stated in (WCAG) 2.1: “In order to meet the needs of different groups and different situations, three levels of conformance are defined: A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest).” Cantilever has set our minimum level of acceptability at the level of AA, while aiming for higher.

Accessibility Begins with Design

Cantilever is happy to work with other designers outside of our company. However, if the client does not involve us in the conversation of UX or visual design process at all, and then brings us in when there is a completed InVision/Sketch file the pursuit of accessibility will likely involve elements of redesign (at the very least). Getting a website or design to AA conformance is going to be a long and slow process if it happens after the design process is completed.

Here’s what you need to know

Most Accessibility stuff starts in Design (as already stated)

A client seeking to make their site or project “as accessible as possible” post-design work being done, will likely encounter the need to rebrand/redesign of their site at some point.

If a client wants a site or project to be accessible, but is not checking their initial UX or designs for accessibility, they are going to be very disappointed in how far "as possible" goes. If we're being brought in after design work is finalized and then told to make it accessible, it's too late.

The vast majority of the problems start at design. After that point, there's not a whole lot left that Cantilever can do aside from pick at HTML semantics and give it a screenreader once-over. That's not enough to even reach Level A.

The web article, ”The WebAIM Million“ features an analysis of the home pages for the 1 million most popular web sites. Specifically, this link anchors to some data about which WCAG issues were most common. Well over 80% of the surveyed home pages had color contrast problems, on average featuring 31 contrast errors per page. That's not something that can just be fixed at the end. Colors—so often tied to brand—are an element of accessibility that needs to be contrasted at the start.

The Misnomer about "Levels" of Accessibility

The different levels of accessibility that exist do not correspond to effectiveness for users that need accessible websites. Levels of accessibility are determined more on who will be excluded from using a site if certain criteria is not met. A website that conforms to the highest standards of accessibility is not guaranteed success at meeting the needs of all users.

There are only "levels" of accessibility in the sense that WCAG has success criteria in different levels. The actual concept of accessibility is more of a mixture of a gradient and binary off-and-on, depending on what exactly we're looking at and at what scope. To illustrate: a “very accessible” site that removes many barriers is probably not worth much for someone who has a barrier that wasn't addressed and thus they can't access it anyway. The process of making a website accessible is a combination of looking at a binary checklist in addition to a creative and combination of empathetic development and design techniques in order to build a site that is hospitable to as wide an audience base as possible.

Interestingly, the WCAG isn't tiered based on harm, but is instead based on the size of the barrier a criteria represents. Even then, it's extremely biased towards visual and motor disabilities: visual noise is a Level AA criteria, while the equivalent for audio 'noise' is considered Level AAA.

Data Regarding Accessibility

People looking for general statistical data can find some that WebAIM compiles in surveys about how people with disabilities generally use the web.

For people hoping to find: “This particular accessibility concept helps X percent of users,” Cantilever is not aware of such data. Additionally, we find that to be very dangerous territory to tread into and caution against such thinking as it generally turns into a game of disabilities-as-metrics. Accessibility is inherently impossible to measure empirically. What is accessible to one person could be inaccessible to another.

For individuals seeking a basic introduction to what digital accessibility means in the first place., Cantilever recommends starting with WebAIM's intro: