Write instructions that don't rely on just one characteristic

Example of accessible and inaccessible instructions
Image description: Accessible and inaccessible comparison fo instructions. The accessible example has a blue button with a question mark with text that says, "For assistance, click on the help button - the blue button with a question mark icon in the upper right." The inaccessible example has the same button with text that says, "For assistance, click on the help button."

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Why This is Important

Instructions that use multiple different descriptors (such as shape, color, placement, size, etc.) helps people with a diversity of disabilities understand instructions.

Having descriptive instructions is helpful to Blind and visually impaired people, Deaf and hard of hearing people, and those with cognitive or intellectual disabilities.

There is a wide diversity of people who may not be able to see, hear, or experience certain descriptors (e.g. the button is blue, the notification has a doorbell sound, etc.) Therefore, including multiple different types is a better guarantee that people will understand instructions.

This references WCAG criterion 1.3.3 Sensory Characteristics (Level A).

How to Implement This

Note - To be honest, I think this rule may be a somewhat outdated internet tradition from the '90s. We don't typically encourage too many instructions in software development these days because we believe that the design should be so intuitive that it speaks for itself. If you have any feedback on this content please feel free to add in the form below.

The main application of this rule is in writing the help/FAQ guide. Make sure to use more than one descriptor when writing instructions.

These articles help provide more detail on different sensory characteristics.

These writing guides provide helpful direction for writing accessible content.

Martial arts metaphor (I love martial arts and often use metaphors to relate it to product design). In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a grappling martial art, there are a fair number of Blind practitioners and teachers. A best practice that I've heard to teach BJJ Blind folks is to be as descriptive about your actions as possible.

  • Vague: put your hand here
  • Descriptive: put your right hand on your opponent's right shoulder, reaching as far toward their shoulder blade as you can

How to Test This

Facilitate user testing with people of a wide diversity of disabilities to get feedback on the instructions.


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