An inclusive mindset

If you’ve ever heard of accessibility, you’ve probably been told that it’s supposed to make websites and software accessible to disabled users. That it’s like a set of UX rules and optimizations which let your product’s visually impaired audience enlarge the text and maybe even listen to some information spoken aloud instead of having to read it on screen. Of course, you probably realize that blind and visually impaired users are not the only disabled users out there but somehow they tend to be the group we focus on most when it comes to accessibility.

At the end of the day, web designers put an obscure little “enlarge text” button at the top of their web pages and most software providers just add a bunch of basic voice output or magnification features and then boast of it in their press releases. In the mean time, the average user struggles to understand what the hell the accessibility label in the settings means and why make such a fuss over letting people change the fonts from 10 to 16 pt since it makes the whole thing look damn ugly.

The inclusive mindset I see accessibility to be is a completely different story.

Imagine you start designing your product with all its potential users in mind. Not just the young, white, geeky male target audience we automatically default to when it comes to software (or any other technology related product for that matter). Imagine the product is actually intuitive enough for your technophobic grandma to manage with little or no assistance and yet rich enough for a power user to want to use it. Imagine the product can be used just as efficiently by somebody with 20/20 vision, low vision or no vision whatsoever. Or by someone who only has one fully functional hand. Or by a child with an attention deficit disorder. Bare in mind you need totally different accessibility solutions to make your product usable for each of these target groups.

If you wanted to make an existing product accessible for all these audiences you’d probably have to spend loads of time and money on redesigning it and adding extra accessibility features. That’s why pretty much nobody does it.

But if you start the whole production process with a notion of universal design, you’ll be in a much better position to succeed at achieving accessibility for all. And will probably end up with a better user experience for your regular users too.

The concept of viewing accessibility as a mindset and not as a checklist isn’t entirely new (see Access IQ’s article on web accessibility as a mindset), but so far it hasn’t yet been widely adopted. Obviously, it takes more time and knowledge, especially – though not only – in the initial planning and product design stages. Worst thing is, currently barely anyone in the market has enough experience in the accessibility field to jump straight into universal design. Most of us would first have to conduct costly user and requirements research on not-so-easy-to-obtain groups of users with various disabilities to get an understanding of what we’re dealing with.

Moreover, the payoff doesn’t seem all that clear either. Global estimates put the number of people with disabilities at around 15% of the population (see the UN Factsheet of Persons with Disabilities) but honestly, how many disabled people do you see on an average weekday? From an everyday perspective it can often seem they’re barely there…

Well, the whole idea of an inclusive mindset is to be aware of the various forms of disability all around us, actually understand it instead of merely recognizing its symptoms and try to create products which can be operated pretty much by anyone. That’s so much more than just following one of those magic accessibility checklists your project manager suddenly shows you in the final stage of post-production product testing, isn’t it?

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