Deepen Your Empathy

Takeaways from "Accessibility: How to Design for All" by Frank Spillers

By Steven C. Diaz, Senior UX/UI Designer STG Consulting

I had the opportunity this past week to complete the course “Accessibility: How to Design for All” offered by the Interaction Design Foundation and was impressed with the knowledge given to me, the exercises that were given, and the eye-opening experience it had on me in knowing I have a lot of room to grow. I could probably share a lot more than these few takeaways from this course, but who really wants to read an 8,000-word long blog post?


We all hear a soft skill of UX design is having and showing empathy. I will be honest; I have fallen into the trap of designing for my own personal preferences instead of what’s a better experience for the user. When I started this course, I felt my empathy for users changed completely. I have lacked in thinking and making accessibility a priority in my designs, and realized through my laziness and lack of education many users could have not had the best experience.

I have also fallen into the trap of assuming the majority of users wouldn’t have a disability that would prevent them from still having the same experience as others. But throughout this course, working on exercises of imitating disabilities, and seeing users with disabilities try to navigate sites with zero problems, really makes you wish everyone could have the same pleasant experiences when doing things most people take for granted.

Be Mindful

Maybe it ties into showing more empathy, but being mindful from the initial concept of design to the final handoff is what’s going to allow your experience to be more accessible for every user that interacts with the final product. Even from the beginning stages of hearing current user experiences, to whiteboarding new processes and flows, you should be mindful of how all users no matter their capabilities will interact and use your product. It’s easy to get caught up in all the fun interactions and capabilities of a site, but as you do so, think of how those interactions will display for those that might be visually impaired or those whose motor skills might be a challenge. Being mindful in the beginning will make your life and the development team’s lives much simpler than trying to address these issues after launch.

Don’t Settle For “Good Enough”

I have always been a competitive person. I get fired up when my abilities are challenged, or when I want to be better than a competitor in my industry, or when I realize I didn’t give my best efforts and know I can do better. Most days, I’m turning everything into a competition and It’s probably far from being healthy. I just don’t like to settle for good enough, and know in the future I will be turning the web content I create into a game by making sure the accessibility is the highest it can be.

When building and developing web content and making sure that content is accessible, specific guidelines are put in place to ensure individuals with disabilities can have a positive experience.

These guidelines are organized into three levels of conformance:

  • Level A is the minimum level.
  • Level AA includes all Level A and AA requirements. Many organizations strive to meet Level AA.
  • Level AAA includes all Level A, AA, and AAA requirements.

Most companies seem to only strive to get to Level AA to make sure they are compliant but have no desire to go the extra mile to give a better experience. Yes, deadlines, budgets, demographics, and lack of knowledge all play a part in these applications not going the extra mile. But after seeing users struggle with basic functions of trying to comment on a friend’s social post, reserve an AirBnB for a vacation, or even order food to have delivered to them, it’s painful to see many organizations don’t strive to go the extra mile and make it a competition to make an impact in someone’s life by giving them a better experience.

Quick Reference for WCAG Guidelines

Conclusion: Make Someone’s Life Easier Today

I have mentioned I was completely unaware of the bad experiences many disabled individuals go through while navigating; what we assume, are basic functions of the web. Frank Spillers mentioned throughout the course to be mindful and strive to make someone’s life easier today. Designers all know that our main job is to be “problem solvers”, I love that aspect of my career. Unfortunately, I have dropped the ball on some of those problems and experiences I should be solving.

I dread thinking back and wondering if I made a bad experience for a user on that banking site I helped develop, or that eCommerce site I worked on, or that education site I managed. I need to be better and work on making someone’s life easier today. Can you imagine the joy and relief that disabled users would have if they were able to navigate your site easily and accomplish their goal of visiting your site? Our job as designers is to give the best user experiences possible, and showing empathy, being mindful, and doing more than what’s “good enough” will give all users that better experience they are hoping for and expecting.