Imagine the situation. You want to buy an online ticket to the online event. You found the company and entered the website. The problem is that there is no visible structure on the page. You do not know where the menu is, where the main sections are. You cannot find the part with tickets.
All you can see is some white space, some seems-to-be-accidental information about a few events and an advert. After some time, on the really bottom of the page, you found a button ‘Go to the Shop.’ You think it is worth to try.
You want to get this ticket! So you click. And then it is another white space. You see nothing. But when you click randomly, other pages open. You are confused. You feel helpless…
Now imagine, that is not a broken website or a one-time situation. A lot of the web pages work like that when people with disabilities try to use them.
In theory, the Internet is for everybody. The practice shows that not necessarily users are equal. A lot of people are excluded just because companies didn’t think about them as users worth focusing on.
When it comes to thinking about accessible software, everyone pictures users that are blind or deaf. But they are not the only ones. The person can be physically impaired, for example, after some accident that can happen to anyone. It also includes people with color blindness or vision problems (like myopia) or cognitive difficulties. Or even foreigners that do not know the language very well.
It is worth to notice that a lot of impaired people do not think about themselves as ‘special users.’ Sometimes it is just a temporary problem, like a broken leg, or sickness. It can also be something permanent, but the person is so used to his or her limitation that does not perceive it as something to make a lot of fuss about.
Small problems with vision, for example, when problems occur only in the bright surrounding, or during dawn, or when letters are just a little too small. Or even captions are needed when the user wants to watch a video but cannot do it with the sound on (it happens to me all the time!).
These are just examples of people and their issues, but also people in different situations that occur to millions every day.
Think about digital accessibility as the equivalent of wheelchair ramps for sidewalks. We all understand that the person in a wheelchair should be able to navigate efficiently. But we also realize that improvements for wheelchairs brought value for other people. Like mothers pushing a baby in a pram. A person with a suitcase. Even a delivery man with a lot of boxes in a trolley.
Another example could be automated doors. When a company uses them, it is a vast improvement for people with disabilities. But also, doors like that can save money. As they open when it is needed, companies can save energy used for heating. Plus, they work touchless. No fingerprints on the doors mean less cleaning. In coronavirus time, it is also a very hygienic way to get into the building.
There are tons of examples. I mentioned those just to show that the design improvements help people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities. But at the same time, other users benefit from that.
Today, one billion people globally live with some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries (data by GADIM, 2020).
Think about that. One billion people around the world with disabilities. Do they have considerable spending power? If yes, then why companies just ignore that?
This is the situation now. And it will not improve. Our society is getting old. We are getting old. It is quite impressive, but it also comes with a cost. More and more users will have problems with vision, hearing, motor, or even cognition. Companies should start to get ready for that. Accessibility rules address all of the issues. Including it within a project and introducing it to the product will benefit everyone in the future.
Excluding users by brands is counter logical. While many businesses fight for even 1 percent of the possible market, it sounds not wise to ignore 15-20% of the population who have a disability.
The person who has a positive experience with a website will likely tell others, who again tell others, and so on. If a person with a disability were able to buy a product online quickly, she or he will tell others in their disability groups, family members, friends, work colleagues. Imagine that. It sounds like a good idea to calculate the possible increase of business that could be achieved simply by making the company accessible in the online world. Add to that PR and marketing effect, and it is even more significant.
Those should be significant motivators for brands to be more accessible for all users.
When accessible features are inbuilt into your website, like alt text for images and captions for video, it optimizes your Search Engine. SEO increases the number of visitors to the site by obtaining a high ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine like Google. Captions also can be useful for users, that want to watch the company’s video content without a sound.
It all seems like worth doing. But how to introduce the accessibility topic to the project you manage? Here are a few steps:
1. Provide information
Share the information within your organization. As mentioned in this article, you can provide a lot of data: how many users have a disability of what kind. You can specify that the limitations of users vary; based on that, steps to improve digital products could be different. You can highlight the possible impact of your company’s business and PR (if applicable). You can even prepare a short business case, show numbers, and calculate the effect. It is up to you!
2. Show the user story
Build awareness of stories of users. Use short but universal stories that will reflect with listeners’ lives. Describe it with details; the best choose ones that could be associated with your company’s business. You can use examples from that article, just to highlight the problems you want to address. Encourage empathy.
3. Do the research
Check digital products you are in charge of. If they are online, conduct research using web tools or with real users. If the project is in progress, check mockups or designs – then you can introduce improvements before developers start to code.
The probability that you will find users within your own company is quite vast. If so, ask politely if they would like to participate – not to stigma their limitations, but to highlight the importance of this work – for others. Together you can help other people in everyday life.
Accessible User Experience (UX) and Inclusive Design are new approaches, trying to ensure that the product is accessible to as many different users as possible. You can ask your UX Designer and Graphic Designers if they are familiar with those topics. If not, find some materials or courses, also encourage them to dive deeper by asking for empathy. Especially UX Designers should participate, as there is a lot of work that could be done by them at the very early stage of the project.
Ask also developers if they are familiar with modern accessibility standards. Nowadays, there is a lot of tips and tricks for programmers. Giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google have prepared libraries and software just to help code better – in terms of accessibility. It is quite fresh, so there is a probability that you will surprise some of your IT colleagues!
5. Make it common
Start to include accessibility topics in your and your’s team every day’s work. Even small tasks, small improvements count. When you start to do even little steps toward better accessibility, other teams also can feel encouraged to do so.
6. Spread the word
Having all of that, having improved outcomes of your projects, let others know about that. Spread the word. Ask your marketing department if your company could publish a case study. Show the impact of your work, encourage others to make some changes. It is a win-win situation, both to you and your company, as well as to people with disabilities.
To wrap up, one billion users with different forms of disabilities have problems with surfing on the Internet. Websites are excluding them by not providing correctly developed websites, and having that in mind could benefit the company you work for.
As a project manager, you can change the world for the better. That is the truth, and you should know it 🙂 Good luck!