This article was originally posted on 29thdrive.com
As a young designer of electronic interfaces, accessibility used to be more of an afterthought for me. “Blind users won’t need this site anyway, because they can’t legally use the product,” I remember saying (I used to work for a large vehicle rental company).
What I found out was that thinking of disabled people like second-class-citizens was at worst limiting civil liberties and at best merely leaving millions of dollars on the table for our competitors to swipe away.
Removing my blinders
After hearing my ill-conceived remark, some of my coworkers at the time enlightened me about a few use cases where my assumptions about blind users in particular broke down.
- User could be ordering for an assistant who can help them use the product
- User could be a parent ordering for a son or daughter that may need it
- User could be an executive or administrative assistant ordering for their employees
The list goes on.
As my blinders were removed by some more empathetic and experienced UX’ers I was working with, I discovered that focusing on accessibility improved the design for all users. As John F. Kennedy said, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Accessibility is just a starting point for good design for all.
More than “alt” attributes
Your first thought may be—as mine was—"alt attributes on all images!" but accessibility isn’t just about helping people "see" the contents of a page. It goes all the way to helping them get what they want from your site or application. Starting with the information architecture and input methods.
Does that sound like good design practice? That’s because it is. If you design your system with information architecture that makes it easy to navigate and find content as well as input methods that are accessible for everyone, you will see your metrics improve for all users, regardless of their physical abilities.