How to Design for People with Special Needs: UI/UX principles

A Guide to Accessibility in UX Design

Angela Huang
5 min readSep 14, 2022
Photo by Elizabeth Woolner on Unsplash
Photo by Elizabeth Woolner on Unsplash

Part of the traffic to nearly every site includes people with special needs. By catering to the needs of individuals with physical disabilities, you can appeal to a broader audience and significantly increase the positive reputation of your business. While this adds an extra expense during the design process, when a company considers the interests of all types of prospective visitors and clients, finding a compromise between designs friendly to those with disabilities and those without, it stands the highest chance of growing its audience.

Every UX design company should rely on specific principles in designing for visitors with disabilities such as deafness, dyslexia, or various visual impairments. In the following article, we will review these principles in greater detail.

Web Accessibility For Color Blind Users

Roughly 8% of the global population cannot perceive colors. This condition, which primarily affects men, has different forms, but deuteranopia is the most common of such distortion. This condition prohibits the afflicted individual from seeing red or green, rendering them nearly similar shades of yellow.

Now let’s consider such an individual’s confusion in a scenario where they are presented with a red and green button, with the latter meaning “no” and the former meaning “yes.” As these individuals cannot see these colors, they may find trouble comprehending what the forms that include these buttons do.

There are three primary suggestions to address such a design:

Set clear signature text on buttons to communicate their intent without the need to see the button colors.

● Add an “alt” attribute to allow users to understand the button’s assigned responsibility clearly. If this does not load, the users can revert to observing the button’s signature.

● By increasing contrast, you can leverage different font types, heading styles, and colors to better distinguish the site’s sections.

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Accessible Design For Dyslexic Users

About 7% of the world is affected by a “reading disorder,” medically termed dyslexia. Dyslexic individuals have trouble reading and pronouncing written words, making it challenging to read websites with illegible fonts and poor contrast.

The primary solution designers use to address this problem is to use contrast. Increasing text of capital letters, increasing distance between characters, and altering line heights help smooth out the inherent flaws. UX designers can make users of oblique surfaces and, in some instances, may even consider designing their font tailored specifically to dyslexic users. Some fonts like that already exist, such as Christian Boer’s Dyslexie font.

Source: Dyslexiefont
Source: Dyslexiefont

Accessible Websites For Users With Auditory Disabilities

Some websites utilize video in conjunction with text-based content. Deaf individuals cannot hear the potentially important content about your business in this manner. By not subtitling or captioning the video, a company can instantly alienate potentially deaf clients as they will not be able to receive all of the necessary information.

Subtitles are not just useful for those users who are hearing impaired. They can also be beneficial to those with visual impairments. By making the subtitles more prominent and more significant, a UX designer can alleviate a vision-impaired individual’s effort to read the entire site for the same content as that provided already by the video.

UX Accessibility Features For Users With Motor Disabilities

Not everyone can utilize ordinary computer peripheries like mice and keyboards. To help them use these less, designers can work on reducing the number of situations where user intervention is necessary for interactions. For instance, important data should not be obstructed by items that need to be moved or expanded.

Another approach is to increase web form size. Alternatively, interaction shortcuts can be added to drive click reduction. Rather than have to follow some multi-click, linear path to their desired destination, a user can be presented with a map listing all possible combinations.

The Right Visual Hierarchy And Alternative Content

The hierarchical organization of the site’s UI is essential. This involves posting only important, meaningful content related to the rest of the site’s content. This will help a user understand the purpose of each available web form. Tips can also be added to bolster the effectiveness of a accessible website`s usability.

Making the screen larger also appeals to users with specific visual impairments, as does the availability of alternate content types. For instance, a site making articles available that provides a text version, as well as an audio version of the content available to the visitors, helps to appeal to users with both visual and auditory impairments, allowing them to consume the content in a way most convenient for their particular situation.

Sometimes, it is easy to get carried away and overdo it when generating a hierarchy. When that happens, users feel intimidated by the sheer amount of content and possibilities, choosing to head somewhere else.

The Final Touch on Accessible UX Design

When designing with disabled people in mind, it is essential to account for each group’s needs. This includes additional contrast utilization for those with color perception problems, unique fonts for those with reading disabilities, hotkey functionalities for motor problems, subtitles, alternative content for those with hearing impairments, etc. Organizing your design in a well-thought-out visual hierarchy will also go a long way in helping. By leveraging these simple, yet practical design tips, you can create an excellent experience for users interacting with your business regardless of their disability state.

Thanks for reading!