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Accessibility and Innovation: How Simple Considerations Spur Innovation

Reflections from a Design Thinking and Inclusive Design practitioner

A vector image of a group of people with a variety of different visable and invisible disabilities

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is May 20 this year, a day when accessibility innovations are celebrated for the good they do. Stories about bots that auto-caption videos on Twitter when tagged and braille functionality on smartphones are amplified on this day.

These digital solutions are game-changers, and completely alter how communities can engage — no matter their accessibility needs. As someone who lives with chronic anxiety, being able to read live captions during a meeting is grounding, especially when there are multiple key stakeholders on the call. It also gives me the ability to capture any important tasks by reading the transcript post-meeting — something that eases my anxiety connected to completing projects. In meetings where I don’t have captions, I’m often writing verbatim notes. I wasn’t the primary use case for this feature, but this feature has greatly improved my work experience.

There are also so many unintended benefits that come from creating accessible virtual environments. For example, when heading fonts are descriptive and alt text image descriptions on images are clear, search engine optimization (SEO) for web properties is improved and more people will discover your content. Another example is Dark Mode, which started as an accessibility feature for those with visual impairments, and is now a widely utilized setting by people with and without disabilities to reduce the impacts of eye strain from staring at digital screens.

Accessibility standards establish an important baseline for how to create or modify solutions to involve more communities and create more inclusive experiences and environments. And when they are thought of as more than just a required checklist, they can push digital experiences to be so much more than just “accommodating”.

Accessibility and innovation

As a design thinking and inclusive design practitioner, I bring into my work the experiences of my whole self: someone with a disability, a racialized woman, and someone who’s experienced class mobility. Using inclusive design methodologies has increased our team’s awareness of the needs of underserved communities and has become a core component of how our innovation team operates.

By including an equity lens in our design and development process, we make more conscious decisions about how we build and create concepts to ensure we’re taking into consideration as many experiences as we can. We know we can’t build the perfect app — there’s no way to be all things to all people — but this approach explores and considers more elements to be implemented in day one, two or three builds.

In this process, we use Considerations as prompts to create equitable experiences. These are simple questions that are meant to help a team assess the gaps in their ideas. The following are a few Ability Considerations that are general in nature that any team can try out:

  • Did we proactively consider international accessibility standards during the ideation and design phases?​​
  • Have we used tools like Microsoft’s Accessibility Spectrum to address barriers that those experiencing permanent, temporary, and situational accessibility needs might face?
  • Have we used the simplest, most common language possible in our solution?
  • Have we created a design library that involves images of people with a wide range of abilities?
  • Have we requested any accessibility teams in our organization to assess our solution for additional accessibility considerations?

Simply, did we think about the experiences and barriers that people with a spectrum of abilities would have when using our solution?

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions; don’t feel discouraged. Answering “no” to a Consideration creates a starting point. It gives you an opportunity to build better — to say that you considered and made relevant, tangible changes to your solution.

When we consider the abilities of all potential users, that’s when features are created that elicit a sense of belonging for all. That’s when we create digital solutions that are game-changers that completely shift how we interact.

That’s when innovation happens.

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Samantha Marie Estoesta Williams

Samantha Marie Estoesta Williams

She/her. Community builder. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion advocate. #WomenInTech. Spoken Word Artist. Design Thinker.