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Accessibility: Issues and opportunities
How does inaccessible design affect the everyday life of people with disabilities? A few observations on accessibility, issues, and opportunities.
Technology and independence
Websites, apps and other digital products play a big role in the lives of people with disabilities. They can offer autonomy and equal opportunities. Technological advances have opened access to many services, reaching from education to eServices to communication in general.
But digital products are not always conceived for people with disabilities. As a result, they are often either painful to use or, plainly put, not even working. Poor design can make everyday activities like online shopping, checking the train schedule or following a recipe frustrating for anyone. But while poor design means frustration for some, for others, it means exclusion.
The situation in Switzerland
In Switzerland, more than 10% of all citizens have some kind of disability—that’s about 1’500’000 people, according to the Swiss Office of Federal Statistics. Websites by the government and government-related services, such as SBB, are prescribed by law to have a certain level of accessibility. According to a study lead by the foundation “Access for all”, those websites are nowadays indeed the most accessible websites in Switzerland.
However, there is a problem: Nobody ensures that those laws are correctly applied. In the private sector, where no legal regulations apply, the situation is even worse. Here, accessibility is done on a voluntary basis. To illustrate the issues, “Access for all” gives the example of news websites—at the time of the study, those showed the worst results in terms of accessibility. The same goes for online shopping.
Everyone benefits from it
Accessible design does not “just” create equal opportunities. It improves everybody’s experience:
- Sufficient colour contrast helps people who read on a screen in direct sunlight
- Alternative subtitles to video content allow people to watch content in a noisy room
- Better keyboard navigation serves power users, who can use it to be faster
- Clear navigation and solid structure help anyone to better orient themselves
Including accessibility in a project comes with a cost. And if accessibility is considered only at the end of a project, those costs are always higher. So, while accessibility may mean higher costs upfront, those costs pay off in the long term: If we start a project with accessibility in mind, we can achieve more at a lower cost!
Daniele Corciulo, consultant at “Access for all,” emphasizes the importance of considering inputs from people with disabilities throughout the process and implementing them continuously. Accessibility shouldn’t be something that is tacked on at the end but an integral part of the initial design and development process.
There are numerous ways to initiate accessibility in your work. Starting simple, these are two easy things anyone can do to improve the accessibility of their website:
- Test a page using only your keyboard. All elements should be reachable and manipulable. The focus on the keyboard should also be visible at all times.
- Use a colour contrast analyser tool in the early stages of the design. For instance, Colour Contrast Check allows you to check if your designs have sufficient colour contrast.
There are plenty more useful resources. The British Home Office, for instance, offers six neat posters that illustrate simple “Do’s and Dont’s” regarding accessibility. So, let’s start making accessibility part of our work!