The WHY of Accessibility

05-12-22 Natalie Lestini

One billion people in the world live with disabilities. Prioritizing their needs elevates the experiences of all users because, at its core, accessibility is usability. Today, you will learn how to develop an inclusive mindset in the digital space.

Sparkbox lives in the digital space. When we talk about accessibility, we focus on the web and other information communication technologies. But if you think about how living with a disability affects the everyday lives of those impacted, the case for inclusion can really “jump off the page.”

According to the World Health Organization’s World Report on Disabilities, over one billion people globally live with some form of disability. That’s 15% of the population. People with disabilities experience exclusion in many aspects of their lives, not just in the digital space. Those living with disabilities often face discrimination that literally blocks them from equally existing and participating in society. The reality is that some of this discrimination comes down to simple education of what full inclusion means, including in the digital space.

So what does that mean?

Accessibility is key to inclusion. It’s about people and their right to access and interact with information and the space around them—but in our case, we will focus on the digital world. It includes user experience, user interface, design, code, and assistive technologies (like screen readers) which ensure the entire user experience of a digital interface—and all its various functions—works for all people.

Sparkbox is committed to raising awareness of accessibility in all of our work. This inclusive effort involves stepping into someone else’s shoes to understand that accessibility is not limited to just physical disabilities. Accessibility is a mindset of empathy and standing in solidarity with those who are disabled across the spectrum. It communicates that we value their knowledge and life experiences and that we are all better served when we incorporate those perspectives into our products, our environments, and our collective human experience.

Prioritizing Inclusivity

If you are reading this article, you probably have an understanding of how important accessibility is–you may even be an accessibility champion in your organization. Well done, you! But how do you deal with that one person on your team who doesn’t prioritize an inclusive approach to projects? What if your product owner is not as committed to accessibility? What if reducing product debt with accessibility never seems to be the priority? Sparkbox has put some thought into how this could be handled. Here are some ideas:

Financial

As noted, approximately 15% of the world’s population are people with disabilities, which represents the world’s largest minority. Think about that for a moment. If you are potentially excluding or negatively impacting 15% of the population, what kind of effect does that have on your brand or, to be blunt, what financial impact could this have on your organization? If current traffic to your site generates $X in total transactions, do you want to take a chance that you are failing to capture a significant percentage of that by NOT being accessible to your customers?

Testing

If you are fighting the good fight in your organization to champion accessibility and it still seems to be the lowest notch on the priority list, you may want to consider how persuasive testing data can be. User research testing— which should include people with disabilities— can help your whole organization broaden its understanding of usability issues with your product. This is an important way to justify the impact of accessibility on your product, and real user feedback goes a long way. Remember, if accessibility is never tested, assume that your product is less accessible than it actually is.

Awareness

Most people understand some basics about accessibility, like color contrast or image tags, for example. Other diverse experiences and barriers of use are often overlooked, including auditory, cognitive and learning, neurological, speech, and visual.

Adapting to the environment around us is central to thinking about accessibility, and this includes factoring in disability and our aging population. ​​As cited by the ADA National Network website: the categorization of disability is expected to increase as the population ages, since incidences of disability increase with age. For the baby boomer demographic alone—75 million people over age 65 who by 2030— at least half of them may have disabilities to address. This will effectively nearly double the number of people with disabilities - conditioned by chronic conditions and diseases that create disability later in life.

Accessibility Is Personal to Everyone

While Sparkbox is not a dedicated accessibility shop, we do consider accessibility a key priority in our process with partners and potential clients. We bring this conversation to the forefront of our engagements instead of tacking it on as an afterthought. We build accessibility into our team and constantly strive to level up our developers and experienced designers.

As someone personally involved with caring for octogenarians who still use mobile devices and computers for everything from banking to grocery shopping, I see the importance of accessibility every day. As a person with epilepsy, I have to reduce motion in my operating system and wear blue light glasses. But as this recent tweet shows, there are still many sites that strive to make something look “amazing” over making it accessible. A site can look amazing and be accessible at the same time—they are not mutually exclusive—you just have to have the right team who keeps accessibility top of mind as they deliver these experiences.

Accessibility isn’t just about audits to ensure that websites are accessible. And accessibility isn’t just something “sold as a service so a company doesn’t get sued” for having a website that is not accessible. It’s crucial for organizations to seek out and respect the lived experiences of disabled people.

It is our responsibility as designers, developers, project managers, and people who care about accessibility, to make sure that we put the people we are creating front and center in our work. Advocating for our users is a servant-leader approach—rooted in a dutiful and empathetic worldview—that listens and understands the needs of others.

And frankly, accessibility is just the right thing to do.

Exploring the Intersection of Web and Accessibility:

Our team has written a lot about how accessibility connects to the many disciples and how we talk about accessibility. Check out some other articles written by Sparkboxers about these intersections:

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