Setting accessibility priorities

Although disability comes in all shapes and sizes, when it comes to using technology, some impairments are more hindering than others. Consider a partially deaf user and one with severe visual impairment. When given a device with no accessibility features whatsoever, the deaf user will probably be able to use it out of the box while the visually impaired one may get stuck as early as the device’s login screen unable to enter the password or PIN code. Similarly, a paralyzed user may not even be capable of holding the device or entering text using its keyboard. On the other hand, an epileptic or someone suffering from ADHD won’t experience the same difficulties at such a basic level of device operation.

That’s why, when it comes to usability and accessibility, some users’ needs are more of a priority than others’.

Typically, the first thing that comes to mind when you think about accessibility features (or at least the first thing I hear from the attendees of my accessibility trainings) is large fonts. Some also mention magnifiers and screen readers (not necessarily actually calling them “screen readers” – rather “talking computers” or something of the sort 🙂 ).

And indeed, designing accessibility features to boost software and hardware usability for visually impaired users is on the top of every manufacturer’s priority list (assuming they are already at the point of caring about accessibility in the first place). Why?

Often, the answer goes something like “because everybody else has it”, which isn’t a very good answer, but does illustrate the point that accessibility for blind and low-vision users must be important since it’s so widespread.

Actually, the reason it’s so important is because visually impaired users (especially blind and very low vision users) could be completely cut off from your product or content unless you provide some accessibility enhancements. Other special needs groups will probably be able to use an inaccessible product to some extent – though they will probably experience lowered usability and user experience compared to non-disabled users.

A similar problem arises for those suffering from various motor impairments – especially when it comes to small physical devices like smartphones or smartwatches.

That’s why accessibility usually starts with magnifiers and big button interfaces. Which isn’t to say that other disability groups don’t deserve their own accessibility features!

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