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Accessibility as part of success

September 5, 2019.

For most of us, the word accessibility means to have access to something. Wikipedia defines it more specifically as “…the design of products, devices … or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities”.

In other words, it’s the ability for everyone to access something, regardless of their condition. Let’s have a look at what the concept of accessibility has given us over the last few decades, and how we take advantage of it in our daily life. And I’m not talking just about the automatic door buttons that are standard here in Canada, and that my son loves to push every time he sees one ?!

Most of us need to experience a problem to want to solve it; that is why people with disabilities are a powerhouse of solutions that advance technology. Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, is a prime example of this. Mr. Cerf is hearing-impaired, and his disability had an impact on his work developing the Internet. Back in the 80s, the deaf and hard-of-hearing were looking for an alternative to telephone communication. Mr. Cerf led the creation of the first commercial email service (MCI Mail in 1982) that allowed him to communicate with family members and colleagues.

While accessible design and features are essential for equal access for people with disabilities, they often lead to improvements in user experience and loyalty for everyone, disabled or not. Indeed, more and more solutions that were originally made for people with disabilities end up being picked up, embraced and loved by the mainstream. Accessible design is what gave us text-to-speech solutions, autocomplete features, smart watches, voice controls, smart TVs, car autopilot, and more. Or take just basic Web accessibility: you might never notice that some of the websites that you use daily are accessible. Some accessibility-related recommendations in web design like styles, contrast and other features actually improve overall user experience and satisfaction. In fact, web accessibility is becoming the law in many developed countries.

At least 15% of the world’s population has a recognized disability. In countries like Canada, where life expectancy is over 70, people spend around 12% of their lifespan living with a disability.

This means that from a purely business perspective, accessibility solutions and innovations increase client base and market reach. But beyond the profits, businesses that mainstream accessibility are more likely to be innovative, which spurs development, which in turn leads to discoveries and inventions. And employing people with disabilities is key to finding the best possible accessibility practices and solutions in different environments and areas.

Accessibility fail.

It is impossible to overestimate the contribution to the development of accessibility by companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft:

“Accessibility is a core value at Apple and something we view as a basic human right.” — Sarah Herrlinger, Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, Apple.

“The accessibility problems of today are the mainstream breakthroughs of tomorrow.” — Eve Andersson, Director, Accessibility Engineering, Google.

“Designing inclusive software results in improved usability and customer satisfaction.” — Microsoft’s App Developer Guide.

Most of us are lucky enough to never have to consider the importance and necessity of accessibility, and might realize it only after reading articles like this one. On the flip side, no-one is ever inconvenienced by accessible technologies and features; in fact, we actually like to use them, whether we’re disabled or not. So let’s start making things more accessible for everyone and, who knows, maybe one day they will turn into a breakthrough, and become mainstream.