Accessibility and Ethics in UX — Personal Tales

Kaila Thomas
4 min readJan 15, 2020
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Here I am a special education teacher making the leap into UX and UI design and I’m facing my feelings on accessibility head-on. In working with young students and those with disabilities, accessibility is huge. Case in point a kindergarten class getting read to engage in their individualized online math lesson.

The Login Tale

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Do you know how frustrating it is to log 25+ tiny people into a web app to complete an activity or take an assessment? It’s an absolute nightmare and takes up the already limited time needed to actually complete the activity itself. As a result, in some cases, after experiencing the login dilemma the decision ends up being “let’s forgo using this really amazing tool because it’s just too hard to get everyone logged in.” In light of this experience I was pleasantly surprised a couple of years ago when I came across a web app that scaffolded the login process based on the user’s age. For the tiny people, think kindergarten to 3rd grade, rather than having to login using a long unremarkable and/or unmemorable password they were able to match an icon to their name.

I thought this login feature was ingenious, but it did make me wonder about the security of such a login type. Would other students be able to get in by guessing or mistakenly choosing someone else icon? And what if even with this more simplified process students still couldn’t login because they couldn’t recall their icon, then what? Is this solution the best? Questions aside, it’s still a better system for getting lots of students up and running quickly. What’s not to say that this type of login framework couldn’t work as well for adults, those with disabilities, or the aging population?

Generalizing Accessibility

In the video “UX Foundations: Accessibility” from Linked In Learning, it was stated that many [designers] ask the wrong question “How do I design for disabled people?” and the answer was ‘The same way you would for people in general.’ I loved this because it makes complete sense. Some of the most useful tools and features that were meant to benefit specialized populations have actually become popular and beloved by the general population. I felt this same sentiment while learning about the best ways to teach students with learning disabilities; often times I found myself saying this is would be great for all students. I often felt like I was sitting on some secret bounty of teaching methods that all teachers could and should learn and apply to get the best learning outcomes for all students.

It’s unfortunate that many with little understanding or empathy toward our disabled members of society, miss out on great opportunities to grow in their efforts create really great stuff the benefits everyone, whether its a website, app, or classroom lesson. I encourage current and future designers to give genuine consideration to how accessible their products are for all users.

The Ethics Tale

Ethics on the other hand are a whole different beast for me. I’m a fierce skeptic and absolutely detest underhanded and deceptive practices. Any company or business that employs dark patterns immediately put me on alert. Examples I’ve encountered recently- forcing me to enter my personal contact information to see the results for a learning personality quiz; forcing me to enter my email to view a shopping website’s products. Anything that forces or any user to enter their personal information (information that can lead to unwanted contact via email, phone, or mail or the sale of such sensitive data to 3rd parties) is a no no in my book.

Photo by Kay on Unsplash

It reminds me of my days working for a particular retail store where sales associates were pushed relentlessly to get customers to open a brand credit card. While I asked everyone equally, it was typically foreigners who agreed to open an account, I assume because they didn’t fully understand what they were getting into. I felt bad for this practice and it was one of the motivating reasons for leaving the retailer; pushing a credit card on unsuspecting folks totally hit me ethically. With this experience in mind, I’d be remiss to state that I would never willingly design anything that will be used in an unethical way or work with clients or companies that build their brand on designing unethical user experiences. I’m all for making money but not at the expense of people’s livelihood.

Moral of the Story

I believe it is completely possible to balance accessible and ethical design with profitability. I think in the long run companies that seek to embrace both end up with stronger products and a more loyal customer base (out of love for the brand, not because it’s the only brand).



Kaila Thomas

I’m a Brand + Web Designer helping #mompreneurs elevate their brand through thoughtful design so they feel confident growing their businesses.