Why you should design with accessibility in mind

Sometimes when people think about accessibility, they think too much in stereotypes. Physical location accessibility = the accessibility user must be in a wheelchair; accessibility events = must be a deaf person who needs a sign language interpret or closed captions; internet = must be that rare blind person that uses a screenreader (followed by someone in the room wondering how blind people even get in the internet). Not so much. There are so many other combinations.

Let’s just get back to where we are all abled. Abled in the physical, emotional and cognitive skills of a person of a specific age in a specific culture. For a two year old person in a western culture that would mean being able to make loud noises with mouth that their parents might be able to understand, being able to run but not yet have mastered the control of their bowels. For an adult the typical skills would mean sight, hearing, mobility, possibly having gender-specific typical so called mental health conditions, such as for women a typical mild depression etc. All while having a large amount of independent living in their life, independence, neurotypical thinking and behavior patterns, and quite a shock if they would later find themselves disabled. An 85-year old would be expected to be content with lesser independent living, with more mobility, sight, and hearing impairments and a long list of medical conditions, with more accepting of the things (including impairments) life has thrown. The expected life skills, sensory abilities and ways of living normally change during a life span. And the designers usually are adult and mostly abled. Let’s change this.

If we had more designers and programmers and UX testers that had disabilities and accessibility needs, accessibility would not be a checkbox and an add-on in the end. It’ll never be an add-on as all the websites, apps, products change. You upgrade that app and now it’s unusable to many, and your in-house testers didn’t catch it because it only affects screenreader users. So if your team had blind, deaf, wheelchair users, dyslexics, foreign language speakers, those with autism and other neurological conditions, maybe you’d be better equipped to make a better product.

Until that happens, the best way to try to reach people is trying to talk about accidental accessibility. When you can’t use a mouse or your phone because your arm is broken, or cooking or looking is difficult when you try to hold a baby or a puppy, or when the sun is just so bright you don’t see the screen outdoors, or those cataracts are starting to get on your way, or you get an ear infection and can’t hear, or a flu or travel in China and you can’t even speak. All very common examples of temporary needs for accessibility. If you drive a car, keep your eyes on the road and use siri to get your driving directions to that new location. If that menu in that exotic country you are in isn’t easy to understand, whip out an app to try to translate it and so on.

Then think about your customer base. What kind of difficulties might they have typically? Look further than that. Find actual users and test, and try  to make your products accessible for everyone. What do makeup or clothing stores, drive share services, restaurants and doctor’s offices questionnaires have in common? All will be used by blind customers, deaf customers, customers in wheelchairs etc. So add captions and good descriptive instructions in audio for that makeup tutorial, describe the colors of the clothes on the store, make the doctors forms fillable with a screenreader and not just a lousy 30 page print document you make them fill at arrival, and make the rideshare app function. No “button, button, button” thank you. No mystery colored clothing items.

Selfish accessibility is another lovely point of thinking about it. Be bold, turn your thinking about accessibility upside down and inside down, then have fun creating and using your tools. Design for your future self.



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