Nothing About Us Without Us: The Importance of Involving Users With Disabilities in your Accessibility Efforts

Blind man using a braille screen reader.
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Users Build Empathy

Ask any designer or developer who has had the opportunity to work with assistive technology users and they’ll tell you just how impactful it is watching an assistive technology user attempt to use their website. Actually putting a face to the users who benefit from the requirements is priceless. Watching the struggles someone experiences because of something as simple as a checkbox or button that can’t be activated by the keyboard, and seeing the frustration as this blocks them from using the website, can drive home just how impactful even simple changes in code can be for accessibility.

Involving users can save on costly accessibility fixes

If you involve people with disabilities in ideation, researching, and prototyping, they will be able to alert you to potential issues long before you start releasing code. An automated test can’t collaborate with you on a product that doesn’t exist yet, or is only partially built. However, a person with a disability can help you understand what the experience might be like, point out where the pitfalls in your designs and ideas might be, and help you start off on the right foot. If you do that, you no longer have to engage in expensive accessibility catch-up, or spend time designing unsatisfactory retrofits to your inaccessible products. According to data from Corporate Compliance Insights, addressing a single accessibility flaw after the fact can cost their customers as much as $10,000; building websites that are accessible from the start is easier and cheaper.

Involving Users Can Help Prioritize

While we might wish that every product was built on an accessible foundation, that’s not the case. There are millions of websites today that have been built without thought to accessibility, and that now need to be fixed. Unfortunately, this exposes another one of the limitations of automated accessibility testing. After running an automated test, the result is a list of errors. Automated tests can’t tell you how these errors will effect the current experience of users with disabilities. Do the errors block someone from using the website entirely? Do they make tasks take longer? Or are they just small irritations.

Users Are The Only Way To Find All The Problems

Did you know that automated tests only detect 30 percent of accessibility errors? While it’s valuable to use automated tests to make sure those errors get flagged and fixed, unless you’re working with users with disabilities, you won’t be finding all of the accessibility problems on your website. As an example, automated tests can only tell you that alt-text exists, and that form fields are labeled. Is the alt text useful, and are the form labels easy to understand? Those are questions only people with disabilities can answer.

Conclusion

The only way to understand if your website works for people with disabilities, and if the experience is both accessible and usable, is to involve them in research, development, and testing. If these ideas are new to you, the most important thing you can do is recruit someone who uses assistive technology, and watch as they attempt to navigate and use your website. This is the first step towards understanding their actual needs, knowing their real experiences, and figuring out how to make changes that truly fix the problem. If you’d like to learn more about how Fable can help you involve people with disabilities in your organizations accessibility process, book a call with us!

Kick-ass 2-day event for the interactive field. Uniting UX Design & Creative Technology. Organized with love by @chperstl, @phlsa and Henning Schulze.