Demystifying Accessibility: Do only highly disabled people benefit from it?
How to stop viewing accessibility as an extra-mile, and start integrating an empathy-driven process in software teams.
In this series of blog posts, we’re going to analyse some common misconceptions about building accessible software. I’m addressing this because when accessibility is seen as a “nice to have”, it almost always ends up forgotten — and making inclusive software is becoming increasingly relevant as more products and services start running online.
So, with no further ado, the first myth:
#1 Only highly disabled people benefit from accessibility.
To address this point, we must first understand what a disability is, so we have a better notion of who it affects.
Disability: An illness, injury, or condition that makes it difficult for someone to do the things that other people do.
Types of disabilities
These are the disabilities that always come to mind when we talk about accessibility. It involves blindness and low vision, muscular dystrophy, deafness, color blindness, paralysis, dyslexia, etc. We might be born with it, or gain it at some point in our life — maybe through an accident, or simply as our bodies get older. Bottom line: this category is for conditions we live with and don’t recover from.
As mentioned above, we can gain a disability; but often we can recover from it. If we suffer an injury (let’s say you break your arm, or have a concussion, and so on), we have a temporary disability.
These “disabilities” have an origin outside our bodies. They’re usually created by the environment in which we’re using a certain technology, and we have all experienced this. For example: using your smartphone outside in a bright day, or trying to listen to audio in a very loud coffee shop, or even trying to text with your non-dominant hand only while carrying groceries on the other arm.
How do these relate? When we prepare our products to work for people with highly limiting disabilities, everyone benefits. If you account for users with color blindness, the good contrast in your app will be useful for people using their devices in a bright environment as well. Supporting keyboard interaction will enable users with limited motion, but power users will be highly satisfied too. The excuse “that’s not my target audience” becomes meaningless, because accessibility targets everyone.
Good accessibility always means better usability.
There’s also the idea that there are very few people living with a disability. However, the last WHO’s report on disability estimated 15% of the world population lives with some form of permanent disability (that’s more people than Internet Explorer users!). And here’s the catch: this estimate grew from 10% to 15% in just 40 years.
Why? Because anyone can gain a disability, and very likely will. Even if we’re lucky to go through life without any kind of accident, we all grow old — and as we age, we lose sight, we have less muscular control, our motion becomes more limited, we experience hearing and memory loss, etc. It’s the circle of life. So, that 5% growth is mainly due to population aging, and it will keep increasing. All these aging symptoms affect the way people interact with technology, so we — the ones building it — must ask ourselves: how will our products thrive if they’re not prepared to support our users?
1. Anyone can gain a disability, and very likely will.
2. When you build for accessibility, everyone benefits.
On the next posts, we’re going to talk about the role designers and developers have in building inclusive software. I’ll share some practical tips and good practices that you can easily use to improve your projects. Feel free to share your own experience and best tips!