Accessibility is everyone’s business

A brightly coloured graphic indicates different kinds of digital communication: social media, camera, phone and video.“We need to do this for compliance, let’s figure out what to do and then we are done.” What you measure, is what you get and no more so than when standards ask for minimum compliance. It is the same in any field of design.

However, the big tech companies claim they do much better than compliance these days. And it has more to do with company culture than teaching better design.

Accessibility is a fundamental part of good design says Matt May from Adobe. He is an accessibility engineer and was part of bringing Adobe up to speed on this topic. He offers some tips for prioritising accessibility in a magazine article. They could apply to any design discipline:

    • Take the time to educate all teams on the elements of an accessible product. May ran a training to encourage all teams from design to product, engineering, and even sales, on how to think about and prioritize accessibility.
    • Introduce a diversity of users to the team to show how different people engage with the tech. Adobe hosts a speaker series where the company brings in a variety of users to highlight how they interact with tech.
    • Take a holistic approach to accessibility. Adobe’s teams integrate accessible design features in the planning phase to create a more fluid experience for all users.
    • Focus on what each team can do to improve accessibility, rather than making it all about the business value.

The article goes into more detail including making accessibility relevant to each employee’s role. The article is titled, Adobe’s approach to accessibility? Everyone’s responsible. 


Design for participation – inclusion will follow

A whiteboard with design concepts in word bubbles around a drawing of a electric light globe. It indicates brainstorming ideas.Designers can relate to the term “inclusive design” more than other terms. This was one of the findings of a Swedish study. Designers had a general sense of “accessibility”, but they felt intimidated by the term. They thought it was for extreme cases for a few people and something they could ignore.

Designers also thought accessibility was a higher requirement than inclusive design. They felt inclusive design sounded more inviting and positive than accessible or universal design. The workshop method used in this study drew out many fears and anxieties designers had about people with disability. The workshop process was therefore a way of educating and allaying these fears and other perceived difficulties. 

This is an important study for design educators, advocates for people with disability and older people, and creators of guidelines. Perception is everything – it underpins attitudes and in turn, designs. The caveat of language is that the study was not conducted in English. So the direct translations might not apply elsewhere. But the study has much more to offer than terminology.

Terminology for inclusion has always been a problem in design disciplines. It’s also an issue for people working in the world of universal design, inclusive design and design-for-all. Each of these terms, and others, such as human centred design and user centred design, have evolved from different spaces. But their aims are all the same. Regardless of the term, getting users to participate in designs, not just comment on prototypes, will result in inclusive outcomes.  

The title of the article is, “Inclusive Design Thinking: Exploring the obstacles and opportunities for individuals and companies to incorporate inclusive design”. It’s by Esra Kahraman from KTH Royal Institute of Technology EECS, Sweden. 

Design for Participation and Inclusion will Follow, the title of this post, is from a separate paper on digital inclusion by Stephan Johansson who is quoted in the article. 

Abstract:  Exclusion by design can be seen in every corner of our society, from inaccessible websites to buildings and it has a significant impact on people with disabilities. As designers and people who have a hand in shaping our environment, having a more holistic view of the target groups when designing for available and new technologies is essential, something that is currently missing. Not only to combat design exclusion but also to challenge and improve current and future products. Related research shows that there are ways to challenge design exclusion but the question of why more inclusive design practices are still not in place remains. This study aims to answer the question: What are the obstacles keeping designers from making more inclusive design choices and what opportunities are there? What are the internal and external factors and how can they be tackled?
The methods chosen to answer these questions were primarily qualitative in forms of interviews, field study, and a workshop. The results from the interviews and empathy building activities done in the workshop highlighted common obstacles the designers felt in their workplace, both on a personal and corporate level.

Economics of UD in ICT

Part of a computer screen showing code.It is often thought that economic arguments will win the day if social justice arguments are ignored. This may be partially true if these arguments are allowed to be heard. “On Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Universal Design of ICT”, is another attempt to show that universal design (UD) has cost benefits, particularly if you take the longer view. This research paper is from Norway.

Abstract: In the ICT and IT domains, Universal Design is typically viewed as a burden and an expense, and its application is often justified only by ethics and/or legislation. Advocates for Universal Design (UD) are arguing that it is cost-effective, but so far there are few studies that document this in a detailed way. In this work, we discuss related research and studies dealing with the costs and benefits of accessible and usable ICT solutions. In particular, we discuss the findings regarding what is a universally designed solution, what is needed to make such a solution, how much does it cost, what impact can be anticipated by the extra effort, and how it can be measured. Finally, we suggest an approach for carrying out cost-benefit analyses of developing universally designed solutions. There is a weak indication that the economical benefits of UD solutions are much higher than the initial and running costs.

I think it is problematic to talk “cost-benefit” because politically it seems it has to benefit those who are not excluded. “Cost effectiveness” is a somewhat different measure with a focus on outcomes rather than outputs. Schraner et al have developed a different model using assistive technology as a case study. Jane Bringolf, Editor.