Digital Accessibility: Getting Started With the POUR Principles

Building with digital accessibility in mind is critical for software developers looking to ensure user-friendly and inclusive applications.

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Building with digital accessibility in mind is critical for software developers looking to ensure user-friendly and inclusive applications. Accessible apps aren’t just helpful to impacted users, but they’re good for business, too, creating the broadest possible user base in a highly competitive era.

Accessibility impacts users far and wide, from those with permanent disabilities to others experiencing situational challenges. In the process of designing and deploying a service or product so that the widest variety of people can use it, developers can eliminate the unnecessary exclusion of users with disabilities while creating a better app for all.

The Need for Accessibility and Its Impact on All

Disabilities exist on a spectrum, and addressing that entire spectrum makes for the best product. Temporary disabilities like a broken wrist or carpal tunnel syndrome might impact how users can maneuver a mouse or their ability to type. Permanent disabilities can vary considerably in type, severity, and how they impact an individual’s ability to interact with the environment. Those impacted with vision impairment might have a total loss of sight, which requires screen reading software or have a less severe form such as color blindness that makes it difficult to distinguish call-to-actions and other UI elements that rely on differences in color.

Developing with accessibility in mind improves the experience for those with disabilities but also generates broader benefits. This is known as the “curb cut effect.” In the 1960s, disability activists advocated for sidewalks to include wheelchair-friendly ramps to enable better mobility. Curb cuts caught on, and soon others without disabilities—families with strollers, walkers with luggage, workers wheeling heavy equipment–discovered they benefitted as well.

It’s the same for software development. Historically, building features and fixing bugs have been developers’ priorities with little time for accessibility design. But considering that 16% of the global population has a severe disability and millions more are impacted by non-severe or temporary disabilities, poor accessibility introduces challenges for a significant number of people. Poor accessibility limits experience and exposure when it doesn’t have to. It can leave organizations open to legal liability as accessibility regulation increases. And in workplace applications, it reduces employee satisfaction and hampers productivity.

Improving accessibility creates a better experience for all.

The POUR Principles for Accessibility

To help address the issue of accessibility, give developers the resources to build more accessible applications, and introduce a single standard for accessibility development, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group introduced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

The WCAG builds on a foundation of four principles, the POUR principles, to give a clear path for approaching web accessibility. Consider how to incorporate these principles for better accessibility today:

Perceivable – Information and controls presented on interfaces should be perceivable to all users, regardless of their abilities. Text should be displayed in an appropriate size and contrast, and components should be clearly presented. Alternative text should be presented alongside images, and videos should include captions and transcripts by default. Also, offer the option of changing the user interface (UI) between light and dark modes to match user preferences.

Operable – User interface controls should be operable by all individuals. One input method isn’t enough. If using a computer mouse is difficult, then an interface should offer keyboard-only options or the capability of using switch devices as an alternative to keyboards and mice. By ensuring users have multiple input method options, your UI becomes more inclusive and accessible to a wider range of users.

Understandable – Cognitive disabilities can affect how individuals understand content. Use simple, clear, and concise language, and consider how the hierarchy and order of information as presented will assist in understanding.

Robust – Content should accommodate the many types of devices with which users will access it. Some users may use special assistive devices to access content. To ensure applications are robust, ensure high code quality and follow standard development practices. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) give the international standard for accessible web content and offer a number of tips. Designers and developers can also utilize ChatGPT as a resource for getting answers to specific accessibility questions.

If possible, accessibility should be a key consideration in the early stages rather than a late-stage add-on. But no matter where you start, evaluate elements like font choice, color selection, content presentation, and visual hierarchy to promote inclusivity. Additionally, writing high-quality code ensures you can meet accessibility goals.

Evaluate the user experience with POUR principles in mind to ensure that you’re not limiting your user base and delivering a premium experience to all, irrespective of disability.

Ibrahim Alkali

Ibrahim Alkali is a UX designer at Vaadin and is passionate about building enterprise apps with the user in mind. Ibrahim was also a UX designer and web developer at Ariga Nigeria and at FlexiSAF Edusoft Limited, after starting his career at Soladnet Softwares as a web designer and developer. Ibrahim is a B.Sc in Computer Science from Ahmadu Bello University.


Ibrahim Alkali is a UX designer at Vaadin and is passionate about building enterprise apps with the user in mind. Ibrahim was also a UX designer and web developer at Ariga Nigeria and at FlexiSAF Edusoft Limited, after starting his career at Soladnet Softwares as a web designer and developer. Ibrahim is a B.Sc in Computer Science from Ahmadu Bello University.