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Kim Hodges - Following universal design principles to improve accessibility

Highlights

Are you overwhelmed by the complexity of accessibility for digital products? In this episode, Kim Hodges digs into the common misconceptions of accessibility, what he sees missed the most when reviewing digital products for accessibility and how to set a strategy early in a project to ensure that your product is more functional for individuals with disabilities.

💡 Don’t buy into the common accessibility misconceptions.

Digital accessibility is not as overwhelming as you may think. Start with universal design principles, and you will be 80% of the way there. Integrating digital accessibility into your processes and workflows will not double your workload in the long run. It will be well worth the effort because digital accessibility is not just for people with varying disabilities - it improves the experience for all of your users!

🚫 Avoid the primary mistakes people make with digital accessibility.

Don't forget the importance of properly tagging all links, buttons, and navigational elements to make the product more functional for individuals with disabilities. Take time to think through the most appropriate tags while giving the proper context to all navigational elements to give your users a much better experience.

Following universal design principles to improve accessibility

In episode 41 of The Product Design Podcast, Seth Coelen interviews Kim Hodges, Director of Digital Accessibility at the University of South Carolina. Kim has a fascinating origin story that led him to accessibility, which he tells us in the full episode. He has over fourteen years of personal and professional experience making digital environments more functional for individuals with disabilities.

During our chat, Kim shares exactly what led him to a career in digital accessibility, the biggest mistakes and most common misconceptions of accessibility, and the best strategy to follow when starting a new project to ensure your product is functional for individuals with disabilities. Kim’s interview is packed with things to consider, from an accessibility standpoint, as you approach your next project.

Kim Hodges and Seth Coelen on The Product Design Podcast

How Kim discovered his passion for digital accessibility

When Kim was 25 years old, he woke up with vision issues. He immediately went to an optometrist who diagnosed him as legally blind, and over the next year, he lost most of his vision. An ophthalmologist and a neuro-ophthalmologist took over a year to formally diagnose Kim. He was finally diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that caused inflammation in his optic nerve and his visual cortex, causing him to become blind.

Once diagnosed, Kim realized he would need to adjust his life to live permanently as a person with a visual impairment. He went to live in a residential center to learn how to use a cane, read braille and use technology that supports people with varying types of disabilities. Kim became very interested in the technology he was learning about and grew a passion for accessibility through the need to learn how to live with his visual impairment. He soon became heavily involved in improving digital accessibility at the college he was attending and eventually other universities as well. Over time, his personal passion eventually turned into a professional passion for accessibility.

Most common digital accessibility misconceptions

About seven years ago, Kim’s autoimmune disease went into remission, and he regained his eyesight. He shares his fascinating journey with us in the full episode. While living without sight, he experienced the harsh reality of the difficulties people with varying disabilities have. For over 17 years, Kim has worked in digital accessibility. Over the years, he has gained a wealth of experience and knowledge on accessibility and shared some common misconceptions people have about digital accessibility.

🚨 Digital accessibility only pertains to websites.

Many people think that digital accessibility only references websites, but this is incorrect. Anything on a digital device should follow and meet accessibility standards and criteria.

🚫 Digital accessibility is going to double your workload.

Most of the time, following digital accessibility, will create less work for you in the long run. Any time you modify your processes or workflows, it seems like a heavier workload initially. Once processes are streamlined and integrated into your workflows, you will have increased efficiency, and it won't feel as cumbersome as going back and fixing accessibility issues in the future.

“If you're following universal design principles, you're developing, you're coding, and you're building products in a way that is mindful of all users, it's not only going to be more efficient in the long run, but it also makes everybody's user experience better, not just people with disabilities.”

⛔️ Accessibility is only for people with disabilities.

This is not true; accessibility improves the experience for all people who use the product. Kim has done work on learning management systems in the past. After accessibility changes were made, the team received an overwhelmingly positive response from users without disabilities, letting them know how much the product had improved. From the ease of navigation and interaction with the content to increased retention - it is a win for everyone involved.

Biggest digital accessibility mistakes to avoid

During our conversation with Kim, he shared several of the most common issues he comes across when reviewing digital products for accessibility. One of the biggest is tagging, which can include many issues. Here are a few examples of what Kim told us to look out for.

📌 Tweaking tab indexes

Is your tab index correct? More often than not, if you leave your tab index alone, it will be ok. Kim has found that when people start tweaking the tab indexes, it causes many issues for a screen reader. If you leave the tab index alone, chances are the screen reader will work just fine.

👨‍💻 Do you know the right way to use ARIA?

One issue that Kim comes across way more than he should is where people use the tag "aria-labelledby" instead of "aria-label". Using "aria-labelledby" causes issues with the screen reader because it looks for an element attached to the tag instead of just the tag. If you use "aria-labelledby" without attaching an element, the screen reader will not read anything.

💡 Tagging links, buttons, and navigational elements

If elements are not appropriately tagged, navigation can be confusing for someone with a visual impairment. Kim shared an example of a "Read More" button. If the link label is not adjusted to include contextual information on what you are clicking to read, then someone with visual impairment will not know what they will be reading more about. Thinking through the appropriate tags and giving the proper context to all navigational elements will give your users a much better experience.

Kim Hodges
“Your particular product might not be designed with people with disabilities in mind, but if it's designed with people in mind, we have to account for all of the phases that people go through in their life.”

Thank you so much, Kim!

We wanted to thank Kim for joining us on the show to share fantastic advice on approaching accessibility in digital products. From common misconceptions to things to avoid from an accessibility standpoint, there is so much for us all to learn from Kim's valuable experience. We are grateful that Kim gave specific examples to apply as we all continue improving accessibility in our work.

Listen to the complete episode on The Product Design Podcast, which includes more about Kim's origin story, its impact on his career in accessibility, and how to set a strategy that includes accessibility on your next project. Don't forget to follow Kim on LinkedIn to keep up with what he is doing!

Where to find Kim

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