When talking to companies about baking accessibility into their products from the beginning, we’ll often spend a lot of attention on the ethical and legal considerations. This is rarely enough for marketing teams and sales teams who are looking to answer questions like, “How can I sell this?” or “How can I use this to attact attention?”
Some will make the mistake of treating accessibility as an add-on package – additional functionality for a fee.
There are other reasons to build accessible products beyond adhering to ethical standards or reducing the risk of litigation. Here are two.
Accessible design helps everybody, drives innovation
Often when we’re talking about accessibility, the people we’re speaking with have an archetypal image in their mind of someone severely disabled: blind people, deaf people, people in wheelchairs, people with cognitive impairments.
Sometimes we’ll remember to point out that as people get older (like their 20s and 30s) their cognitive abilities will begin to decline, especially around visual short term memory tasks. A user’s ability to understand, interpret, and retain information can also be impacted by factors like the way they learn, how distracted they are, and their emotional state (because “My-boss-told-me-this-morning-I-need-to-deliver-five-projects-by-the-end-of-the-week-that-are-all-behind-schedule-and-my-sister-is-getting-married-this-weekend-and-I-skipped-lunch-today”).
But age, fatigue, or just holding something else in your hand can make your movements less precise. A more forgiving system that uses techniques like larger hit areas for clickable things and alternate input modalities like keyboard, touch, and voice can be helpful here. Plus, they are great for power users and demos.
Making a product easier to use by the visually impaired can evoke the robotic sound of screen readers parsing a page or the rage of a color-blind executive struggling with input validation on a form. Techniques like larger text are also great for people who aren’t right next to their monitor, and high color contrast ratios help people with sunlight shining on their screen.
The better a screen reader can understand a page, the better other computerized systems can parse and use the data to improve the experience (like recognizing phone numbers and dialing them at a tap). On consumer-facing sites, this tends to improve SEO.
But people without visual impairments use screen reading technology as well – to have the content read to them while they are engaged in another task. And screen readers are easy to get, free versions are available for browsers and come installed in modern operating systems like Windows and macOS.
Building accessible products makes you awesome
When you focus on accessibility, you end up making things easier on yourself as you introduce mobile experiences, voice experiences, and the innovative experiences of tomorrow. It helps to provide the initial steps in making multiple products work together. As we continue to push into new paradigms, new ways to communicate with our users, accessible design will continue to be a very useful technique.