4 ways to make your digital design more accessible - Generocity Philly

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Apr. 10, 2018 10:30 am

4 ways to make your digital design more accessible

Remember: We’re all only temporarily abled.

Attendees of PhillyCHI’s "Designing for Accessibility" panel.

(Photo via twitter.com/PhillyCHI)

Raise your hand if accessibility is your responsibility at your organization.

A few hands went up in answer to this request at user experience-focused meetup group PhillyCHI’s “Designing for Accessibility” panel discussion last Wednesday, but it was a trick question: “Every hand in the room should be going up,” pointed out moderator Mikey Ilagan, an accessibility specialist at Think Company and Comcast.

On that opening note, the framework was set for a conversation about how everyone — designers, developers, executives — plays a role in making websites, apps and other digital products easier to use for people with disabilities.

Panelists for the event included:

  • Neil McDevitt, executive director, Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre, Inc. (DHCC)
  • Isabella “Izzy” Gong, full-stack developer at MOD
  • Ariel Braverman, senior UX designer at Comcast

Together, their shared insights explained why accessible design matters. Really, the stats should speak for themselves: Fifteen percent of the world’s population experience some form of disability, and projections indicate there will be over 1.1 billion new internet users by 2020.

But it’s still a confusing priority for many, major tech companies not an exception. YouTube’s auto-captioning feature has been around since 2009, but it’s infamous for being grossly inaccurate; it took Slack nearly 10 years before they hired an accessibility product manager to correct issues with screen readers and more.

Below are four key takeaways to set the record straight and help you be an accessible design advocate in your organization.

1. Representation matters.

McDevitt said people with disabilities are often considered last in a company’s “diversity” hiring initiatives, if they are considered at all. If you’re in a decision-making position, it’s as simple as making an effort to hire someone with a disability.

Not that high up in the chain of command? Ask your leaders to be proactive about hiring people with disabilities. Share job openings with organizations that work with people who have disabilities. Champion an accessibility speaker series for your company, like Gong did at Mod, to empower people with disabilities to share about their experiences and, in turn, educate and build empathy within your team. Start a club to review ADA and other accessibility guidelines so you can learn together.

In addition, seek out individuals with disabilities to be a part of your user tests and, if needed, take time to be a mentor and train them on how to be good users for your testing needs.

“A lot of people without a disability think, ‘Well, we shouldn’t talk about it,'” noted McDevitt. “But oftentimes we do want to talk about it. We want to share our experiences with you so that you can do a better job for us. [Disability] is not a taboo topic.”

2. Add an accessibility checkbox on the to-do list, and reward small victories.

Design ruiner. Dream crusher. Accessibility police. These are some of the misperceptions the panelists have come up against as they’ve advocated for more accessible design.

However, Braverman says this bad rep is rooted in a process flaw: Oftentimes, design and development teams don’t consider accessibility until after they’ve already built an “incredible, cutting-edge” website; she concedes it can be very frustrating to incorporate changes after a design has been implemented, but emphasizes this is exactly why teams must add an accessibility checkbox to the original design criteria from the start. The up-front integration of accessibility features eliminates those frustrating revisions at the end.

When an accessibility item gets checked off the list, remember to positively reinforce your team, too.

“You gotta reward small gains,” Izzy added. “As soon as someone even thinks about something like changing the contrast, you have to be like ‘Yo! Great job! Yes!'”

3. Customization is key.

Braverman pointed to her work on Comcast’s TV Guide as an example of good customization. The user settings within the guide allow people to adjust details — such as font, text size, background colors, opacity levels and more — to their unique preferences and needs. This is also why it’s important to make sure the settings feature, in and of itself, is easy to access, too.

And, at the end of the day, always give the option to undo any customization choice.

4. Remember, we’re all only temporarily abled.

Although we most often associate the concept of accessibility with individuals who have a permanent disability, McDevitt said it’s important to remember disability is on a spectrum. Do you wear glasses? Have you ever had a broken arm? Isn’t it harder to hear your date over dinner when a loud group is seated nearby? These, too, are examples of disability.

We are all temporarily abled, which means accessibility (or lack thereof) can and will impact all of us at some point in time. “We need to shift the focus from special needs and disability, to functional needs,” instructed McDevitt. “We all have a functional need for communication.”

Gong added: “If the whole world was accessible, then there would be no disabled people because everyone could access everything!”

And that’s a future worth raising your hand for.

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