designing for visual and audio impairment

Inclusive Design for Video

How designing for disability provided me with a new perspective

Years ago, I volunteered to redesign a newsletter for the National Federation of the Blind. As someone who loved to typeset tiny, gray fonts and choose colors to my heart’s desire, I realized that I had been designing with little concern for an important segment of our population:

The visually impaired.

Prior to the explosion of online resources on accessibility, a designer had to use in-person research as a source for insight.

For this particular project, I worked with my best friend’s father, Al, who is visually impaired. He provided valuable guidance as to type size, contrast, color choice, and screen-reader compatibility for the newsletter.

In my former world, designing for disability tended to be an after thought. Considering an estimated 8 million people in the United States have some sort of visual impairment, this project made me much more conscientious when designing pieces for all audiences to enjoy.

I have since participated in accessibility design workshops, mostly for digital content. Thanks to advances in technology, voice activation, and helpful resources like WebAIM, designers can create online marketing pieces that are relevant and usable by the visually impaired.

So, how are accessible design, universal design, and inclusive design different from one another?

Accessible design is a design process in which the needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered, according to the DO-IT Center at the University of Washington.

Universal design is the design of an environment so that it might be used in the widest possible range of situations without the need for adaptation. Universal design emphasizes a physical solution.

Inclusive Design considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference, according to the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD U in Toronto.

Kat Holmes, the queen of inclusive design, served as the Principal Director of Inclusive Design at Microsoft from 2014-2017 and has since authored Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design. She explains the nuances of these terms in this article.

“An important distinction is that accessibility is an attribute, whereas inclusive design is a method. While practicing inclusive design should make a product more accessible, it’s not a process for meeting all accessibility standards.”

“A simple way to remember the distinction is that universal design is one-size-fits-all. Inclusive design is one-size-fits-one,” she further explains.

Recently, we produced a video for a client that relied heavily on sound design. It made me start thinking about the importance of non-visual attributes. How can marketers make videos more accessible? Instead of making assumptions, I did what we at Stoltz do with all projects: conduct research by talking directly to the audience.

design for disability in hearing

To form a more empathetic view, I interviewed five people who are visually impaired to weigh-in on effective methods for reaching this specific audience. Here’s a summary of their suggestions.

  1. Never underestimate the power of music and voice over. Use sound creatively to paint a picture of the story.
  2. Always create an audio description to accompany video.
  3. Keep in mind color, contrast, and patterns. If a viewer is color blind, they won’t be able see the difference between green and orange (as the NFL found out a few years ago.)
  4. Podcasts are a great place to consider audio advertising.
  5. Don’t forget to audibly mention what the product or service is at least once in the video.
  6. Emotion and relevancy are very important factors in grabbing attention, whether you are visually impaired or not.
  7. Be clear and concise. Pay attention to small details in sound design.
  8. Clutter can be confusing. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
  9. Close your eyes and listen to a video after watching it once to see how it might be interpreted by someone who does not have the ability to view the accompanying visuals.
  10. Interview a person who represents the demographic you want to reach or conduct a focus group. Better yet, involve them before you start the project. Listen to how a visually impaired person would describe the item/experience audibly.

As a part of the interview, I also asked if there are any brands that do a decent job of consistently marketing to the visually impaired.

Not surprisingly, there were very few mentioned. However, many cited this recent video from Subaru:

Designing for disability is an important concept that we as marketers should carefully consider when creating communications. Hopefully this article opened your own eyes, and ears, to a few tips that will help on your next project.

Interested in learning more? I highly recommend these resources: