Promoting Inclusion Through User Choice: CSS and Accessibility

Understanding the preferences of over 7.8 billion people is a challenging task. This complexity is further compounded when it comes to supporting individuals with disabilities and assistive technology. However, one solution that shows promise is user-focused CSS media features, which allow for customization of the user experience based on individual preferences. In this article, Carie Fisher explores the CSS media features available for detecting user preferences and how they can be used to create more inclusive user experiences.

Every day, we make countless choices that shape our identities and perspectives. In today’s world, we expect a wide range of choices in the products and services we use. However, this hasn’t always been the case. In the past, options were limited, such as having only one font family or a limited color palette. But now, we have access to a vast array of web fonts, colors, and JavaScript frameworks.While designers and developers may have some insights into user needs, it’s nearly impossible to understand the preferences of billions of people. This challenge is further complicated when it comes to accommodating individuals with disabilities and assistive technology. However, it is our responsibility as designers and developers to address these needs by providing accessible choices. One promising solution is user-focused CSS media features that allow for customization of the user experience.One important aspect of design is color, as it can greatly impact how we perceive brands. The @prefers-color-scheme CSS media feature helps identify whether users prefer light or dark color themes. Users can indicate their preferences through settings in their operating system or user agent. This feature allows websites and apps to adjust various elements, such as text and buttons, to ensure they stand out against different background colors.Another CSS media feature is @forced-colors, which detects whether the user has enabled forced colors mode. This mode imposes a limited color palette chosen by the user onto the page. It provides an alternative approach to handling colors for non-Windows devices and may replace Windows High Contrast Mode in the future.The @inverted-colors CSS media feature determines whether to show content in its standard colors or invert them. This feature is particularly useful for users with specific visual needs. By writing code using the inverse color of what is intended, designers can ensure correct rendering after applying the user’s setting.Contrast is another crucial aspect of design, as it helps convey visual information. The @prefers-contrast CSS media feature detects the user’s preference for higher or lower contrast on a page. Designers can make appropriate adjustments, such as modifying the contrast ratio between colors or altering the visual prominence of elements, to better suit the user’s needs.The @prefers-reduced-transparency CSS media feature determines if the user has requested fewer transparent or translucent layer effects. This feature is particularly important for users with certain disabilities who may find excessive transparency distracting or uncomfortable.Finally, the @prefers-reduced-motion CSS media feature helps determine whether the user has requested a reduction in non-essential motion. This is important for users with vestibular disabilities, seizure disorders, and migraine disorders. Designers can incorporate both dynamic movement and static states for elements to provide the best user experience.While these CSS media features offer great potential for customization and inclusivity, it’s important to note that not all browsers and operating systems fully support them. However, there are ways to emulate these features using browser tools and settings.In conclusion, by leveraging user-focused CSS media features, designers and developers can create more inclusive user experiences. These features allow for customization based on individual preferences, such as color schemes, contrast levels, transparency, and motion. While there are still limitations in browser support, the potential impact on user customization is significant. Our goal as professionals should be to ensure that digital products are accessible to all individuals by providing options and letting users choose their own adventure.