What are the Three Pillars of Accessibility, You Ask?

Accessibility is the art of designing products and services that everyone can use, no matter what their abilities or disabilities are. It’s a legal obligation and a moral responsibility for product designers.

But, what does it mean in practice?

How can designers ensure that their products are accessible to all users?

Buckle up, we’re about to dive into the three pillars of accessibility:

  1. perceivability,
  2. operability, and
  3. understandability.

These core principles are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 and can guide the design of accessible products.


Perceivability is the first pillar of accessibility.

It’s all about making sure that users can perceive a product’s information and interface elements through at least one of their senses.

Blind or visually-impaired users, for instance, can’t see visual information such as images, icons, or text.

To ensure your products are perceivable, you must provide alternative ways to access this information, like text descriptions, captions, or audio.

Here are some perceivability guidelines you should follow:

  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content, such as images, videos, or audio.
  • Provide captions and transcripts for audio and video content.
  • Use sufficient contrast between text and background colours.
  • Use clear and consistent labels and headings for navigation and content structure.
  • Avoid using colour alone to convey information or indicate actions.


Operability is the second pillar of accessibility.

It’s all about making sure that users can interact with your product using their preferred input methods and devices.

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Users with physical disabilities or motor impairments, for example, may not be able to use a mouse or a keyboard to operate a product.

To ensure your products are operable, you must make them compatible with alternative input methods, such as voice commands, touch screens, or switches.

Here are some operability guidelines you should follow:

  • Make all functionality available from a keyboard or an alternative input device.
  • Provide keyboard shortcuts and access keys for common actions and navigation.
  • Support touch gestures and pointer events for touch screens and styluses.
  • Provide clear and consistent feedback for user actions and system status.
  • Allow users to adjust the timing and speed of interactions and animations.


Understandability is the third pillar of accessibility.

It’s all about making sure that users can comprehend a product’s information and interface elements.

Users with cognitive disabilities or learning difficulties, for example, may not be able to understand complex or unfamiliar words, concepts, or instructions.

To ensure your products are understandable, you must use clear and simple language and provide additional support for users who need it.

Here are some understandability guidelines you should follow:

  • Use plain language and avoid jargon, acronyms, or idioms.
  • Provide definitions, explanations, or examples for unfamiliar terms or concepts.
  • Use consistent and predictable layout and functionality throughout the product.
  • Provide clear and concise instructions and error messages.
  • Provide mechanisms to help users avoid and correct mistakes.

Accessibility: Not Just a Feature, But a Lifestyle

Accessibility is not just a feature or an afterthought.

It’s a fundamental aspect of product design that benefits all users.

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By following the three pillars of accessibility: perceivability, operability, and understandability, designers can create products that are usable by everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

So, whether you’re a designer, developer, or simply someone who cares about creating inclusive products, keep these guidelines in mind.

Remember, accessibility is not just a checkbox on your to-do list, it’s a way of life!

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