Prioritizing Accessibility in Software Development
In this article
Software development is now routinely covered in the everyday news cycle, and as with any news, there are trends. Data breaches to Target (2013), Yahoo (2014), Equifax (2017) and others brought security to the forefront of the average consumer's minds, and with good reason. In the last few years, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA), and April 26 release of iOS 14.5, made data privacy a hot topic. All the while, another area of software rose to the forefront, and there is no reason to think it will slow any time soon: accessibility.
Whether you're called by altruism to consider users who rarely appear in target personas, or you're concerned by the potential impact of negligence, the interest in accessibility continues to grow. Understanding what accessibility is and how it impacts your business could be a vital factor to your success—or failure—in the next few years.
Accessibility, a subset of Inclusive Design, is the qualities that make an experience open to all, regardless of ability. While accessibility can be thought of as a measure meant to help individuals with disabilities access products, especially digital products, it is better described as a dedication to learning from people with a range of perspectives and integrating that knowledge into the design process to produce better, and more available, products.
Different companies address accessibility in different ways. Some companies—many companies unfortunately—ignore it completely. Other companies have inclusive design and accessibility built into their processes as part of their design DNA. Most companies are somewhere in between.
A "feature" implies an area of software that can be included in the final product...or not. At WWT, we don't think of accessibility as a feature. Instead, we prefer to view accessibility as a requirement that is considered throughout the creative process. As a Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® and Best Workplaces for Diversity™, we are committed to a culture of inclusion. This core value starts with who we hire and how we treat each other and extends into the products we create.
There are three reasons we choose to focus on accessibility in the creative process.
1. It's the Right Thing to Do
First and foremost, considering a wide range of potential users for the products we make is the right thing to do. We strive to make products that allow everyone to benefit from their full potential. Imagine a world where a user doesn't feel confident ordering a sandwich from their phone or buying a shirt online solely because they rely on a screen reader or speech-to-text to navigate their devices. This person is not able to fully participate in society the way others are able.
2. It Makes Business Sense
Drawing on people's different abilities creates a better experience for all. In the physical world, curb cuts in sidewalks are critical for individuals in wheelchairs to maneuver independently. However, they are far from the only people to benefit. A worker pushing a loaded cart of items to be stocked, an elderly person who relies on a walker, and an athlete using crutches after knee surgery all leverage the same curb cut.
In the digital world, the same is true. Voice recognition software like Siri and Google Assistant help people with visual impairment write a personal note, but they also allow a parent holding a baby to send a text message. Beyond a more robust and valuable feature set, considering accessibility enables people who may otherwise be shut out, and expands the potential user/customer base.
According to the CDC, roughly sixty-one million or, one in four (26%), adults in the United States live with a disability of some kind.
- 13.7 percent of people with a disability have a mobility disability with serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
- 10.8 percent of people with a disability have a cognition disability with serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
- 5.9 percent of people with a disability are deaf or have serious difficulty hearing
- 4.6 percent of people with a disability have a vision disability with blindness or serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses.
3. It's a Requirement of Modern Software Production
As noted earlier in this article, security and data protection are requirements for modern software production, and accessibility should earn similar prioritization. While the hope is that companies pursue accessibility from a desire for inclusivity, it's important to note that countries around the world require accessible software by law. While Americans with Disabilities Act web and app filed lawsuits were rare more than five years ago, their rise was swift: from 262 in 2016 to several thousand each year in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Though accessibility may not be an area product owners traditionally focus, it's clear that lawyers have taken notice on behalf of their clients.
Though the difficulty in creating accessible software can be embellished, it's true that it's not a small or easy feat either. It requires many people from different backgrounds with different responsibilities coming together. And it's a journey worth traveling. If you share a passion for accessibility, or are simply interested in learning more, please reach out. We'd love to walk the journey together.