Universal, Inclusive, & Accessible: Reflections on a Year Building my Design Practice (Part 0)

Last month I ended two years as an Interaction Designer at Disney Parks & Resort Digital. Among the many amazing projects I got to work on to bring once-in-a-lifetime (or once a week, looking at you AP holders) experiences to our guests, the most rewarding was building an accessibility & inclusive design practice from the ground up with my partner in crime Abhaya Pothina.

I started my journey unconsciously incompetent of accessibility technology and design. For many years, my philosophy for well executed Human Centered Design is that it should examine power structures that impair users’ ability to achieve a goal, and break down those hierarchies. Perhaps the most germane application, and the one I had considered the least was with the disability community.

I originally approached the task of making new design features fully accessible as a process problem; it was something we could apply logic and systematic thinking to. In learning what it took to make a product fully accessible, I didn’t just learn the ins and outs of screen readers, switch access, and captioning systems, but also the stories from people who need this technology. When a person’s impairment is mismatched with a product or technology, we are disabling them. Due to the pervasiveness of disabling experiences, even minimal accessibility brings unadulterated joy to impaired users. This experience changed my perspective from providing solutions for a disability, to working within a problem space (the problem was our technology and products). I put more focus on creating empathy within our design, product, and technology teams for the challenges people with disabilities had to overcome everyday in our parks.

Over the next few months, I will be posting a four part series on how to get started in accessibility design. This is a project in self-reflection, as well as a way of reaching out to my design network and starting a conversation about how accessibility and inclusive design can influence design thinking. The series will consist of the following four chapters:

Why does accessibility and inclusive design matter?

While I outlined a personal case above, I’ll go more in depth on motivation for considering accessibility from the start of a project’s lifecycle. This will include examples of technologies we take for granted that had their start solving a need for the disability community. Additionally, we will look at Inclusive Design thinking, which is being pioneered by Microsoft, and how implementing their practices can influence design.

Where do I start learning about accessibility?

This will be a non-exhaustive folio of resources I have leveraged or found useful for accessibility design. This will include Web/Mobile App standards guides, best practices for development teams, guidelines on languages, etc.

How do I socialize accessibility with my stakeholders and project partners?

Creating a culture that values investing in accessible technology up front is challenging. In this section I will go through strategies for socializing inclusives design and accessibility using real world examples from Google, Microsoft, and Nordstrom.

How do I get innovative with accessibility?

Designing for people with disabilities does not just mean fulfilling the minimum legal requirements for accessibility. Creating awesome and equitable experiences for all people should be what we as designers strive for. Additionally in the chapter, I will outline resources for connecting with the disability community, especially for user research, and hiring practices to bring designers with disabilities onto your team.