Last month the Leap Motion Controller shipped to customers, making headway in the quest for affordable gestural control tech. Now the reviews are pouring in. Leap Motion’s co-founder and CEO says his company is “committed to breaking down the barriers between people and technology to make the future more accessible.” There’s ample potential to assist users with gesture controls. Don’t forget that there are eye-tracking controls, among other assistive tech, both currently in use and development.

As in all good UX, universal access is key. I think Nomensa’s blog says it best:

“The good news is that accessibility is usability under a magnifying glass. If you’re thinking about great usability, the chances are that you’re already thinking about great accessibility too.”

Whether the user has a disability or not, it’s crucial that they can use your site. After all, don’t you want to help out all your users, increase conversions, build a fanbase, and have happy, loyal customers? Here are five simple steps to implement today.

1. Read Updtblog_accessibility_tips_image1The first step is to gather as much as you can about how people with disabilities utilize technology to access your site.

Ample resources from W3C are available to get you started. They show you stories of diverse web users, WAI’s user agent accessibility guidelines, web accessibility evaluation tools and more.

During your research you’ll also find out how common screen reader usage between devices is — whether on a desktop, laptop, or mobile device. Smashing Magazine’s site (among others) have a variety of accessibility articles.

2. Write Up an Accessibility Checklist

dtblog_accessibility_tips_image2With the knowledge you’ve collected about how people will interact with your site, you can sketch up some new personas and use cases to incorporate into your project.

At this point, draw up an accessibility checklist for your team that you can use for future projects, too. Like a top-notch, agile style guide, keep it updated with new decisions and discoveries while housing it in a place everyone on the team can easily access.

Here are a handful of ideas from Nomensa to get you started:

3. Word Your Buttons & Anchor Text Wisely

dtblog_accessibility_tips_image3Though switching a button text from “SEARCH” to “GO!” doesn’t stand out as a glaring accessibility issue (especially when designing for responsive sites), it’s important to consider potential confusion for users with screen readers or learning disabilities. As this great article on UX and accessibility explains, someone on the autistic spectrum may have trouble with ambiguity (asking “go where?” when reading the button).

In a similar vein to wording buttons wisely, anchor text for the phrase “Click Here” is  loaded with trouble for accessibility and assistive tech. As mentioned in my checklist starter list above, a descriptive phrase for your link is really important to visitors using screen readers.

4. Try out the Tech

dtblog_accessibility_tips_image4By trying screen readers you’ll see how the buttons and links are rendered. By trying out the assistive tech in on your office’s resident Android, iPhone and iPad, as well as on an array of OS and browser combos, you can ensure everyone can get the most out of your site.

Trying out the tech also includes having real folks to try out your project. Certain features in your site may cause a slight pause for some users, while that “GO!” button becomes a big obstacle for others.

With your experience with assistive tech like screen readers, you’ll see how a responsive site may become weighed down by “verbosity and clutter,” as Henny Swan warns in Implementing Responsive Design (p. 141). She emphasizes that you need to choreograph the right WAI-ARIA landmarks, headings and text in order to make your site accessible to screen readers (which also merits trying on multiple devices that use screen readers).

5. Extend Your Discoveries

dtblog_accessibility_tips_image5As UX Magazine points out, when you engage accessibility, you can start crafting innovative solutions for all your users. Have a fresh site, app, software or typographic idea to make text easier for people with dyslexia? Go for it! Even innovations like keyboard navigation on your site have the potential to help any and all users. Working on communicating the web and computers for all your users — especially for users with disabilities — can bring up all sorts of new ways of looking at your project or product. Who knows? You may be inspired to create an app for a braille smartphone or Leap Motion.

Designing for Everyone

As a variety of cutting edge tech becomes more commonplace (with an $80 pricetag, it’ll be interesting to see how Leap Motion takes off!) and assists users with disabilities, the web will need to be ready to adapt. While creating a responsive site increases your site’s usability and accessibility, making sure assistive tech is compatible with your site is vital to universal access.

How do you designing for universal access? What have you learned about making your responsive site more accessible?  Share your tips below!