Imagine browsing through a most beautiful library, yet you cannot pick any book to read because they are written for blind people in Braille; Consequently, you as a person who relies upon the visual text has no means to access information in those books. Your expectation of discovering new knowledge impeded, and your effort to browse through the library wasted. You feel frustrated as well as excluded from the social environment and decides to leave that library because of how inaccessible it’s content is for you.
For disabled users – who cannot see, hear, speak, have cognitive, or mobility impairment, either permanent, temporal or situational, this scenario is not far from reality. Disable users make up 10% of the world’s population – the largest minority group in the world. Alone in Germany, by the end of 2019, there are 7.9 million severely disabled people that makeup 9.5% of the total German population, reported by The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). The number will likely to increase as a result of the ageing population and other health-related concern.
In terms of accessibility, we do not only consider people who are severely disabled, meaning their performance in major life activities is significantly limited but also temporal or situational disabilities. Temporal disabilities include a hand injury, ear infection, lost glasses whereas situational disabilities use cases include using a phone in bright sunlight, an environment that is loud or distracting, environments where you are not allowed to listen to audio, stressful situations where processing information can be difficult.
The impact of the pandemic will likely expose the inaccessibility of many digital tools and services, on which even more people working from home rely upon to complete their daily tasks. Services like video conferences and virtual events can severely limit the participation of a person who is hard of hearing, have a bad internet connection, disabled audio if the users do not have captions and transcription to consume information.
Furthermore, many accessibility guidelines are ignored or not even considered in the decision-making process from the stakeholders to the end-code. As a result, it limits the access to users who use keyboards, speech input or screen readers to navigate across the internet due to amputees, injury or no access to a mouse, or trackpads.
Additionally, non-semantic and improperly coded digital services can hinder the progress of many disabled users, who are trying to fill forms, complete a registration process or checking out in healthcare, governmental, or education-related services.
Implementing web accessibility guidelines in our digital tools and services is not just about the advocacy for equal access and opportunities for everyone; In fact, accessibility significantly impacts the return on investment for businesses’ digital presence of any size and kind. The search engines rank accessible websites higher, which means more visibility, more traffic, higher conversion and ultimately boost in SEO performance. When users can easily access, navigate and consume any piece of information via accessible inputs, they will most likely return to your service or use your tools instead of inaccessible one to complete their tasks.
We need to take immediate steps to ensure that our ideas are inclusive by accommodating everyone across the spectrum of disabilities and that the accessibility from the start of any project is baked right into our design concepts, copywriting and development. The impact of such consideration will not only benefit everyone disabled or not, but it will also harvest a manifold return on investment for businesses regardless of their size.
Taha Bader | User Experience Designer Shanghai.Berlin