“It’s not the disability that holds one back but the mismatch in the environment.”
This is one of the things said by David (aka Dave) Dame, Director of Accessibility at Microsoft, that stood out during an inspiring and insightful session that team RedBit had with him. Dave has Cerebral palsy (but cerebral palsy does not have him) and has always wanted to do something for people living with disabilities with the help of technology. He strongly believes that “to truly want a diverse world, we need to be diverse in our purpose. Inclusion will, hence, happen for all.” Now Dave gets to fulfil his passion of accessibility for all in his position as Director of Accessibility at Microsoft.
An hour is not enough to cover a vast topic like accessibility, however, there were some eye-opening moments and insights that are worth sharing.
Let’s start with something so simple yet almost none of us would never even think about, likely because we never want to think about it but accordingly to Dave:
“You’re all going to be disabled someday. I just got a head start on you.”
It’s a fact and something to think about. Be it a broken arm, ageing, or just simply trying to use an app with one hand whilst you feed your child, we need to look at disability beyond what is the obvious.
Designing for Accessibility will open up the number of users your app can reach
To be able to interact with as many users as possible, we need to be inclusive with everybody with disability. Businesses need to build their products and services in a way where individuals with disability can use them. When you design for one, you start moving in the direction of designing for everyone. When you design a product keeping accessibility in mind for even one person, you are opening your doors for many such individuals.
Sharing from his own designing experience, Kevin Dekker, Product Designer at RedBit says, “Whatever I’m designing, I try to keep it as simple as possible to focus on the important functionality and help facilitate concentration. Transitions and animations can be wonderful and creative - but if they impact accessibility, they have to go.” He further adds, “Building tools with more customizable accessibility options empowers individual users.”
The key is to move from a mindset of a ‘product one can use’ to a ‘product one would choose’.
Accessibility is both a responsibility and an opportunity
The disability community is over 1 billion (and that’s only those who are registered, there are many more that never bother to register a disability). By 2030 this number will rise to 2 billion. When you alienate one disabled person, you are alienating all of them in a way. It’s not just about checking some boxes of compliance or just meeting the standards. It’s about having an inclusive mindset throughout and thinking of how to integrate accessibility at every step of the design process.
A product without accessibility can be damaging to your business. For example, did you know that 71% of websites are not usable by those with disabilities?* That’s around 1 in 4 visitors that click away from your website due to a lack of accessibility. By not having an accessible design, you’re not only failing a responsibility but loosing a financial opportunity as well. Having an accessible product opens the door to millions of new potential customers who are currently unable to interact with your brand due to accessibility barriers.
Kerlea Joseph, Product Designer at RedBit, shares what she thinks when she’s trying to design for inclusive experiences. “I try, as much as possible, to think in extremes from my own experience. What would my experience be like using this product if I couldn’t see? If I had no arms? If I could only remember 10 seconds of information”. She also shares, “how people from different experiences - whether that’s cultural, racial, gender-based etc., interact with digital products.”
The pandemic: Catalyst to big changes
An interesting point made by Dave was that “the best thing about the pandemic is that for the first time, people who never had to experience living with a disability had to learn to live with one”. He further elaborated that when the pandemic hit, not everyone could carry out simple tasks the way they would before – like grocery shopping, banking, making appointments or just connecting with their loved ones. Everyone had to shift to an online, digital world which gave an equilibrium to people with disabilities. The pandemic also highlighted where digital products fell short like accessible mismatches in even the most popular applications. It also provided ideas for new business models, new ways to interact and allowed more people to have the flexibility to connect, work, live and play.
An accessible design is a good design
It not only benefits users who have disabilities but also those who don’t. It breaks barriers, unites people and makes lives easier regardless of their abilities. Integrating accessible designs while building a product or service can help increase a brand’s credibility and expand its market reach. The more inclusive you are, the more accessible your design is.
The session with Dave was a great opportunity for team RedBit to learn and internalize the importance of accessible design and improve our approach towards building any digital product.
Start thinking about how to make it simpler for everyone to use your product. This is the least we can do to build awareness, learn and pledge to build a more inclusive future.
If you want to learn more about Accessibility, check out: