Accessibillity, Why Bother?

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Tim Severien
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Lately, accessibility is getting more awareness. That's a good thing if you ask me. But there are still plenty of misconceptions standing in the way of a truly accessible web.

Urged to do better ourselves, Bart-Jan, Sven and I joined the Fronteers workshop Inclusive Design & Accessibility by Peter van Grieken, who is an expert on the matter.

What Is Accessibility and Inclusive Design?

Accessibility is the extent in which a product or service is usable for as many people as possible.

Inclusive design is a design methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity.

A quote by Eric Bailey saying “Responsive design is adapting design to unknown browsers. Inclusive design is adapting design to unknown users.”

Why Bother?

Halfway through the workshop, Marnix joined, who lost (most of) his sight some years ago. One of the attendees, Darice, is late deaf. Their presence was very valuable, as we got the chance to learn how accessibility can make all the difference, based on their own experiences.

Food for Thought

Like all of us, Darice sometimes orders food and has it delivered. With today’s food delivery services, that should be a piece of cake (no pun intended), but it isn’t.

Deliveroo for example, does not have a field for comments, disabling users to notify the restaurant about allergies or to give instructions how to alert the client their delivery is at the door. If an order goes wrong using Foodora, able hearing and speech is a must, because they only allow users to get in touch by phone. An error this small can render a service risky if not useless for Darice.

She wrote about it in her post Food for the Hearing and Healthy Only.

Costly Mistakes

Many of us shop online. If I were visually impaired, it would be great to stay home and order a product instead of having to navigate through a mess of busy streets we call a city. Unfortunately, various major webshops complicate relatively simple tasks.

Marnix uses a screen reader and navigates using a keyboard. In one shop, when navigating to a category, the menu opens visually, but cannot be navigated to with a keyboard. Instead, Marnix must find that page via a search engine. That doesn’t seem like a critical issue—it’s annoying at most. He then told he once bought the same product several times because the checkout process is unclear. Such an error can cost you, as some shops charge shipping for returned products.

It’s embarrassing Darice and Marnix have to face these issues. We have the technology to make websites perfectly usable for them, yet we fail to do so.

The ‘Edge Case’ Myth

According to Microsoft, 25% of the population in the Netherlands has an impairment.1 The Netherlands is an ageing nation, and ageing causes both cognitive and physical impairments, so this statistic is likely to grow. Instead of focusing on this significant group, it is often requested to provide support for specific browsers. Internet Explorer for example, only has a market share of ~8% in the Netherlands.2 Should we let users know their outdated browser might influence their experience, or ask the impaired to get over their impairment? The rational thing to do is to optimise for what results in a larger audience—in this case, the impaired.

A list of various impairments and the number of affected in the Netherlands. They sum up to 4 million people.

Everyone Benefits From Inclusive Design

If 25% of the population still isn’t enough to convince you, optimising a product for impairments benefits all users. Everyone appreciates better legibility, simplified content or buttons that actually describe what action they trigger. Higher contrast between background and text is great when the sun beams light on your screen. Transcriptions or closed captioning is great if you want to leave the sound off. While you’re increasing potential audience, you’re also improving the UX for your existing audience. It’s a win-win.

If we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself.

— Dan Formosa, Smart Design, “Objectified

Don’t Be a Criminal

Still not convinced? Well, too bad, because you probably have to make products accessible by law. Most countries in the world have signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some countries already have laws in place.3 It’s only a matter of time until laws will be enforced.

Costs

This sounds like a lot of work, so it must cost, eh?

It all starts with the right mindset. Luckily, those are free! For every design choice, take some time to consider how various solutions benefit or damage various users. Having personas at hand is a great way to make sure you’re not forgetting anyone. Don’t hesitate to build a prototype and have it tested so you know you’re on the right track.

NASA researched the escalation of the costs of errors throughout a project’s lifecycle.4 The model applies to accessibility as well: the sooner you start making your product accessible and inclusive, the better.

Fixing errors is by far the biggest cost. It can affect multiple disciplines. You might have to throw away work. By building and testing prototypes early, you can find and solve issues long before they are implemented in the project. Timing is essential.

A graph of relative costs to fix software errors per life cycle phase.

In Conclusion

Accessibility and inclusivity are surrounded by many misconceptions. The number of people with an impairment is huge and impossible to ignore. The optimisations aren't exclusively for them, it often benefits everyone. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Considering it benefits everyone, it’s so worth it. Oh, and you might be obliged by law.

Let’s build accessible and inclusive products. Not because we have to, but because we want to, and we can.

1: https://www.microsoft.com/netherlands/toegankelijk/over-toegankelijkheid/feiten-en-cijfers.aspx
2: http://gs.statcounter.com/browser-market-share/all/netherlands
3: https://www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/
4: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20100036670.pdf

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