Accessibility Awareness

Let’s make the internet accessible to everyone.

First I’ll ask you this; as a designer, do you actually know what digital accessibility is?

You may be surprised to hear how many reply with something along the lines of: “Well yeah, sort-of?” or “Aren’t they guidelines or something? They’re not really clear anyway.” or a very abrupt, “no”.

I feel like this should really make me feel disappointed, and in some ways it certainly does. But if I’m being completely honest I’m not shocked. Many of us, especially those with a few years under our belt, are not conditioned to hone in on these senses—at least not at first. You see articles about accessibility popping up left and right in design literature more frequently now, just like this very blog post you’re reading. It’s awesome to witness the momentum it’s made over the last few years, and it gives me hope — but I know we can do better.

In some cases, I’ve also heard it referred to as just a “fad”. If you even believe this to be partially true I highly recommend you to reconsider that notion. Once you begin to realize what’s at stake, and how a portion of your audience isn’t capable of appreciating all the hard work that goes into your product—I can tell you from first-hand experience it really feels like a Schwarzenegger punch-in-the-stomach.

So why should we be inclusive?

Taking a step back, I’d like to share with you my own journey to building this into my everyday routine. As a designer, I was raised on a very aesthetics-driven mentality. Keeping accessibility in mind wasn’t at the forefront, let alone the background when advancing through my work-flow.

I remember the exact moment at WWDC a few years ago when the light-bulb truly went off for me based on the following:

1) There are 7.5 billion people in the world 🤯

2) Over 1 billion have a disability worldwide

That’s like saying 1 out of every 7 people on the planet earth have some sort of disability 🤔

3) 285 million globally are either completely blind or have low-vision

Compare that to the entire population of the United States, that’s 88% 😯

4) 82% with blindness are over 50 & the majority are female

Think about the audience you may be designing an interface for, and how this may potentially measure up 💡

It’s tough to describe how I felt after really grasping those numbers. A part of me felt ignorant and embarrassed for all these years. Above all, the important take away for myself, and for you to consider, is how you decide to take action. Start to seek out the answers to your questions even if you don’t know some of the basics—there’s no shame in that. Evaluate your business or product and think about putting on a roadshow to inspire how everyone can collectively make a difference. You can never know too much as there is a continuance of information always growing around best practices.

Believe that we should always be considering how we can create as much of an equal experience as possible for all. Understand what being compliant means, but always act on doing what’s right. Defer from focusing solely on meeting the bare minimum of compliance.

One company I’ve had the pleasure to personally partner with is BoIA (the Bureau of Internet Accessibility). To date, I’ve sought out twenty-one classes around digital accessibility, and Team Treehouse is a wonderful resource to name just a few. Although nothing could compare to the two-day in-person course I took with BoIA; the instructors were outstanding. The greatest part of the experience was learning first-hand from those that were either low-vision or completely blind. To me, it was priceless to gain such perspective not just technically, but hearing their side of the story as well.

“The only disability is when people cannot see human potential.”― Debra Ruh

As designers, it’s our duty to educate about this topic, and not necessarily pass blame to others when we find something that isn’t accessible. Rather, let’s be more open to learning how to better support one another, and more importantly, spread awareness. When critiquing a design, it’s easy to forget about accessibility and rely solely on instinct for what looks “OK” — or in some cases what is “preferred”. Decide to go a level deeper and guide your peers to think differently, even if they aren’t a designer. As with anything, be it learning how to code for the first time or ensuring your experience is accessible; you’ll start to naturally gain some better perspective as you begin to dedicate more time and form better habits.

More and more, companies are better embracing the importance of design because of the gateway it paves to the wealth of information unlocked by the internet — it’s literally what humanizes that massive set of information and makes it useful. We have this unique super-power to harness this and design an accessible world for everyone... So what are we waiting for? Let’s get to it!

Thank you for reading, and for your support! Please be sure to give a clap if you liked this post ✌🏼