Accessibility is for you as much as anyone else

Design is partly dictated by trend and partly evolution.

Your work now will go on to shape future designs, long after you’ve retired. Not only in the output of your work but in how you collaborate with your colleagues. Accepted norms come collectively from the design community. You as a designer, product owner or even business leader are part of that community and are affecting those norms right now.

When you think about it like this, the work you do now has the ability to benefit you in the designs you use in later life. Your work has a legacy.

Now consider the fact that you will probably live for a long time. The life you have in front of you might include injury, it will likely include illness and will most certainly include the degradation of your senses and mobility. Your only escape from this fate is to die young.

Now that I’ve got you in a positive frame of mind, consider how you thought it would feel to be as old as you are now when you were young. If you’re anything like me, you’ll see that it’s a lot better than you thought it would be. I tend to appreciate the new opportunities of being the age that I am. I’m essentially in training to become Statler or Waldorf.

Technology has a large part in enabling our lives and as we get older that can only become more so, as we might become a lot more reliant upon it.

Wouldn’t it be sad though if you found yourself in the situation where you wished the designers of the day would put more consideration into your needs? You wished they could see just how positively they could impact your life, if only they gave you some more thought.

You can do something about that now

One thing I often notice in my friends, family, acquaintances and also myself is how we are all a little bit hypocritical. We often can’t contemplate the lack of consideration others give to our needs, but at the same time we are blind to the same lack of consideration we give to others.

Let me give you some examples.

When I did a lot of mountain biking I found it interesting that some of the same people who grumbled about the lack of consideration they received from hill walkers, also thought it would be funny to do skids on a golf course.

I also notice that some people who hate cyclists as a driver, later take up cycling and become appalled at how little consideration many drivers give them. As they shout their disbelief toward the disappearing car, they could just as easily be shouting at their past selves. The former them probably heard but ignored the cries of “What the F___ !” through an open window as they sped past a cyclist in their car without giving that rider enough space.

Imagine you were driving past yourself or a family member as they cycled along the road. It’s likely you would give that rider more room than you otherwise might.

Now imagining you are designing for an older version of yourself. That older version has some form of impairment which means you don’t use technology in the same way you did. The fact that you’re now trying to consider which impairment that might be is illustrative of my point. It shouldn’t matter.

How would you change the work you’re doing now if you knew you would be the benefactor of this consideration? Try not to think about what you’re not doing for your future self and instead consider what you could do. How might that make your life better?

Accessibility isn’t mainstream

I recently attended the Accessibility Scotland conference and it occurred to me as I looked around the room that very few of the people around me were likely to have a Dribbble account. That’s quite a random thought, but there appears to be a certain type of designer/developer who has a strong focus on accessibility.

More often than not, I’d say it was more heavily influenced by a situation they found themselves in rather than an altruistic need to do good. I am one of them.

This focus often comes from a situation where they have had to learn about accessibility because their work demanded it. They worked for a bank, public sector organisation or a large charity at some point in their career. Perhaps they have an impairment themselves which impacts the way they use technology or a close friend or family member has a disability.

The reason I’m pointing this out is an attempt to dispel any myth that accessible designers and developers are in some way better people than those who have little knowledge or consideration for the subject. They are most likely the same people who simply found themselves in different circumstances.

Let’s make it mainstream

We can’t rely on guilt and enforcement to make a better future for ourselves and a better world for people right now. Instead we should talk about the positive impact and empowerment that accessibility gives to people’s lives.

We can all have a positive impact on our future lives and the lives of others if we look for opportunities to make products accessible to more people.

You don’t need to become an expert. Don’t be ashamed at what you’re not doing and what you don’t know. Instead focus on what you are doing and what you can do in the future.

Then shout about it. Guilt only promotes silence and silence never made anything mainstream apart from Simon and Garfunkel.

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