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Accessibility Design Guidelines for Software

Visual Studio .NET 2003

The following guidelines highlight important accessibility considerations for all software. For more detailed information, see Software Guidelines (

  • Color - Use color to enhance, emphasize, or reiterate information shown by other means rather than as the sole means to convey information.
  • Exposing keyboard focus. Many accessibility aids need to identify the location of the keyboard focus in order to pass that information to users. For example, screen-magnification utilities pan to include the text or object being read, enlarging that portion of the screen.
  • Exposing screen elements. Accessibility aids use Windows messages, Active Accessibility, and off-screen models to collect information about objects on the screen. Accessible applications must expose information about their screen content using Windows messages or Active Accessibility.
  • General user interface. A fundamental rule of accessible design is to provide a user interface that is flexible enough to accommodate the user's needs and preferences.
  • Keyboard input. Keyboard access is a fundamental part of the Microsoft Windows interface standards and is expected of all applications. A well-designed keyboard interface helps users with a wide range of disabilities and those who simply prefer keyboard input.
  • Layout. To assist users who cannot see an object's context on the screen, assign each object a unique and descriptive label.
  • Miscellaneous. Avoid making the user insert or swap disks, including disks and CD-ROMs.
  • Mouse input. Well-designed mouse support makes applications easier to use for many people.
  • Multitasking. Applications should be designed to work well with other applications, including accessibility aids.
  • Size. The size of text and graphics affects both accessibility and usability. Allow users to size objects on the screen and follow system metrics for preset user preferences.
  • Sound. Users with hearing impairments, users working in noisy environments, and users working in environments that require low sound volumes require alternatives to sound.
  • Timings. All timed events should be adjustable by the user. Consequently, users with difficulty reading and reacting to briefly displayed information can successfully perform tasks related to timings.

See Also

Designing Accessible Applications | Active Accessibility