April 6, 2020

Making Technology Accessible to Everyone

Bekah Baker

Software Engineer

Making Technology Accessible to Everyone

Technology and marketing leaders spend hours building out the best strategies and products intended to connect customers with their brands. But it’s surprising how often they overlook the people who might be unable to access a website or app because of their disabilities.

Let me throw a few numbers out here:

  • Over a billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability.
  • 1 in 4 US adults are living with a disability that has a major impact on their life: this includes mobility, hearing and vision.
  • 35% are of prime working age (ages 16 to 64), and the total disposable income for working-age people with disabilities is about $490 billion.
  • In 2019, WebAIM ran a test on the top 1 million sites and determined that 97.8% of home pages exhibited accessibility failures.
  • Around 70% of users will click away from a site as soon as it becomes difficult to operate.

Is your website or app accessible to those with disabilities?

Given the numbers alone, it seems obvious how important it is to have accessible technology. But that still begs the question: how do you accomplish that? I think the first step is a diagnosis of your current technology.

There are multiple tools you can use to check accessibility on your site, but I would recommend a hands on approach to really grasp the full implications of an inaccessible site.

Navigate to the home screen of your website and put away your mouse. Attempt to use only your keyboard to navigate through the screen. You can use “Tab” and “Enter” to select elements. How easy is it for you to get to all the important parts on your site?

I would also highly recommend installing a screen reader, such as ChromeVox. Navigate to your site and close your eyes and allow the screen reader to walk you through your site. I appreciate great design as much as anyone, but is your site still intuitive and functional if you can’t see it?

There’s a good chance that just by running through these two experiments, you have already noticed some major issues.

I was unfortunately very disappointed when I attempted to use sites that I had personally built, using these methods, and could not access some key components of the content. It was a major wake up call to realize that things I took for granted when building a site could cause some people to not even be able to use it at all.

Remember the POUR method to keep your technology accessible

WebAim provides a helpful way to think about how accessible your website or mobile app is, using the acronym POUR.

Perceivable: Can users identify the content? Although many users may be able to perceive the content visually, for others it might be through touch or sound.

Operable: Can users actually interact with the elements? Can they press buttons, toggle switches or swipe? For many users, this is done with a mouse or touch screen, but for others it involves using voice commands or a keyboard.

Understandable: Can users understand the content? Is the interface consistent, concise, predictable and appropriate?

Robust: Can the content be consumed by a wide variety of appropriate technology? Does it work with assistive technology, such as screen readers?

Moving forward with accessible technology

If you’re ready to make some changes to your content, the good news is that it’s not as complicated as it might seem. Once I realized why the sites I built were failing, I was able to easily bring the accessibility rating on a form from 47 all the way up to 97; think about the difference that could make on your site if that’s the form that captures your user’s contact information or payments!

Not only that, but as you remember this audience, I would encourage you to think about accessibility as an integral part of your process when developing apps and websites. It may require some learning and additional work from your front-end and design team, but it will drastically improve the experience of a large group of people and allow them to interact with your content in the way you intended.