Why You Should Design for Accessibility

by Kevin Connors

“If you think about a person in a wheelchair, they’re going to find it very difficult to head down to the local bank office to do their banking. Having an online banking system makes life a lot easier for that person. If they’re actually a quadriplegic, having an inaccessible online banking system means they can’t do their banking at all.” Gian Wild on Accessibility

I recently tried browsing the internet with VoiceOver, Apple’s built-in screen reader software. It quickly showed me how frustrating navigating poorly designed websites can be for blind or visually-impaired users. For example, when searching for a word at Merriam-Webster, I was actually unable to locate its definition. Instead, I found “Trend Watch,” word games, an article called “10 Charming Words for Nasty People,” and a link to Merriam-Webster’s Twitter account.

Sadly, Merriam-Webster is far from alone—most web pages are poorly optimized for screen readers. Screen readers work by navigating a site’s HTML markup in a hierarchical manner, from large categories, like sections, down to smaller ones, like individual articles, and then to even smaller components like paragraphs and images. When a website’s creators fail to build with proper markup, screen readers can’t logically navigate the page. Instead, they jump around and read seemingly random bits and pieces, leaving users infuriated and confused.

When you consider that one fifth of Americans are disabled, the prevalence of inaccessible sites is an embarrassment. Essentially, these sites say that as many as 64 million people in the United States alone simply do not matter as much as people without disabilities. There are some regulations in place that require government services or those receiving government funding (colleges, for example) to be accessible, like Section 508, but most other companies face no legal obligation. Regardless of the legality, there is certainly a moral obligation to provide everyone equal access to content or services.

Of course, there are many other forms of disabilities beyond visual impairment. For each disability, there are different things to consider in the design and implementation of your site or app. Deafness or difficulty hearing, learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s, senility, dementia, color blindness, epilepsy, and difficulty moving or doing everyday tasks can all make your app much harder to use. Since the likelihood of disability is much higher for the elderly (many of whom also struggle with technology literacy), that demographic is especially hindered by poor design. That’s a lot of disabilities, and a lot of people. If your product is difficult or impossible to use by those with disabilities, it may prove difficult for others as well.

Accessibility is about making your product easy to use for everyone. At the end of the day, it’s just good business sense.

We’ve worked with hundreds of companies to create websites that are accessible to all. Do you need help making your website or product accessible? Fill out the contact form here to get in touch.

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design