Tech Trends Expert View Accessibility Tech
» » » Expert View: How Technology Can Shut Out People with Disabilities

Expert View: How Technology Can Shut Out People with Disabilities

 

As technological advances emerge more rapidly than ever, it’s essential that design takes disability into account.

By Simon Dermer co-founder and Managing Director of eSSENTIAL Accessibility

If the recent, updated 2.1 release of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) demonstrates anything, it’s that technology is swiftly changing, and keeping up with it from an accessibility perspective is an ongoing effort. But that’s only because the needs of people with disabilities typically aren’t heeded from the get-go.

Technology is swiftly changing, and keeping up with it from an accessibility perspective is an ongoing effort Click To Tweet

WCAG 2.1 is a set of technical requirements for ensuring that websites and apps are accessible and inclusive. It’s developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international group of experts in this area, and is recognized and used all over the globe.

Ideally, all design, whether digital or structural or procedural, would consider the needs of people with disabilities from the start, just as it systematically takes into account the safety needs of children, the language needs of a bilingual population, or the temperature conditions under which the design will be used.

WCAG 2.1 is a set of technical requirements for ensuring that websites and apps are accessible and inclusive Click To Tweet

What happens instead is that successive advances in web, mobile and other digital technologies affect the day-to-day function and performance of people with disabilities in ways that vacillate between two extremes. They can make these individuals’ lives vastly better, yet often make them vastly worse.

Consider the simple task of ordering a pizza online. Twenty years ago, if you wanted a pizza delivery, you’d leaf through a restaurant flyer, choose your options, pick up the phone and call in your order. Online ordering offers conveniences because you can choose toppings quickly from your screen. With a mobile app, you can order from your couch or your backyard. You don’t have to wait on hold. You don’t risk misunderstandings with your order.

Ideally, all design, whether digital or structural or procedural, would consider the needs of people with disabilities from the start Click To Tweet

If you have a disability, the potential for convenience is even greater. Online ordering eliminates the need to retrieve and handle paper if you have difficulty using your hands. You don’t have to decipher writing on a flyer if you’re blind. You no longer face the problem of communicating by phone if you can’t speak clearly or you’re deaf.

It’s a solution that increases your independence and control over your own life – or, at least, your dinner.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that people with disabilities account for 15 percent of the world’s population, accessibility has not traditionally been top-of-mind for many companies as they scramble to bring their products and services into the digital age. Instead of increasing the independence of people with disabilities, as technology has the capacity to do when it’s designed properly, digital barriers increase isolation, preventing people with disabilities from using a product or service that has been made available solely to the other 85 percent of the population.

Despite the fact that people with disabilities account for 15 percent of the world’s population, accessibility has not traditionally been top-of-mind for many companies Click To Tweet

It’s about much more than pizza, of course. It’s submitting job applications, it’s searching for information, it’s participating in an online class, it’s booking a flight, it’s reserving concert tickets. If these online activities are not barrier-free, then people with disabilities are completely shut out.

Just as a building must have certain features like stairs and doorknobs replaced or eliminated in order for it to be usable by people with disabilities, so too does digital technology. And what’s more, it is vastly less complicated to modify a website than install an elevator. WCAG 2.1 provides an easy-to-follow, thorough guide to ensuring that a web page follows the four principles of accessibility: perceivable (the information can be detected), operable (it can be used and navigated), understandable (this applies to both the information and the functionality) and robust (it will continue to work for different users with different devices).

If these online activities are not barrier-free, then people with disabilities are completely shut out Click To Tweet

The truth is, technology that follows the technical requirements of WCAG 2.1 will actually be more perceivable, operable, understandable and robust for everyone, not just people who have disabilities.

For instance, how often have you accidentally hit the wrong link on a touchscreen because the touch target was too small? One of the requirements of WCAG 2.1 is larger touch areas, to ensure that people with limited hand dexterity won’t make a mistake. That’s something all users can appreciate. Requirements that make a web page usable by someone with partial vision, such as text that can be increased in size without interfering with other content, are a boon for those who reach middle age and develop issues with smaller text. A requirement to provide transcripts for videos allows everyone, not just people who are deaf, to do a quick search for specific content.

The truth is, technology that follows the technical requirements of WCAG 2.1 will actually be more perceivable, operable, understandable and robust for everyone, not just people who have disabilities Click To Tweet

W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative has compiled research and case studies supporting the wide appeal of and business case for accessibility.

WCAG 2.1 stipulates that web pages follow four principles of accessibility: that it be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust Click To Tweet

As technological advances emerge more rapidly than ever, it’s essential that design takes disability into account. It’s the difference between being inclusive of everyone, regardless of ability – or cutting off access to over a billion people around the world.

 

To find out how to leverage VR/AR/MR in your enterprise, Tech Trends offers bespoke Virtual Reality Consultancy support

Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio and @techtrends_tech on Twitter.

 


Also published on Medium.