Accessibility and Disability in Tech: How We Need To Improve

Over 53 million people in the United States live with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  That’s 1 in 5 people. And yet, accessibility for those with disabilities is rarely considered when it comes to developing new products, apps, or businesses online or in the tech world. Or, as Mary Fernandez put it at the 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival:

“You wouldn’t give someone a blank piece of paper and say only certain people can see it,” Mary said. “When you create with only one form of communication, you’re also excluding people.”

Mary, who is 100% blind and an accessibility consultant, has three great ways tech companies can increase their accessibility – from start to finish.

Get Educated On Accessibility

Accessibility means anyone and everyone can navigate, operate, and understand the environment they are in.

“When we apply that to to the web, that means people with disabilities can perceive the content and navigate the content,” Mary said. “Accessibility isn’t something that’s taught in school. And most people in web design or development don’t really know about it. But it’s easy to get educated once you know.”

To get educated on accessibility, and learn how to incorporate access for everyone into your business model, there are several resources you can research  and use:

  • Apple offers their own accessibility guidelines
  • Android offers accessibility guidelines
  • The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – the worldwide gold standard. “The WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including: natural information such as text, images, and sounds, code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.” – WCAG

Think from the Ground Up

To make tech apps more accessible from the beginning, it’s imperative to change current paradigms about who will use a future program, product, or digest future content.

“It’s time for us to change how we think about the user experience,” Mary said. “Instead of thinking about creating something for a person just like you, we need to remember that the user actually will not always be a person just like you!”

Beginning with accessibility at the development stage is always the most cost-effective and efficient route, rather than trying to accomplish a retrograde accessibility fix after that fact.

Take Action

Mary offered several ways companies can increase access for the disabled:

  • Engage in dialogue with people with disabilities, online or in real life, about how to make your products or business more accessible.
  • Hire an accessibility consultant if you have no idea where to begin
  • Hire more people with disabilities to widen your business’s definition of diversity
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions
  • Ditch the assumptions about what people with disabilities can and cannot do – because most of your assumptions are incorrect.

And always remember Mary’s golden rule:

“Treat us like people. Give people with disabilities a chance. Focus on what we can do, not what we can’t do.”

Watch highlights from Mary’s talk at the 2017 Propelify Innovation Festival:

Want to learn more about accessibility?  Sign up for a complimentary Propelify Insider membership and receive future access to our library of incredible content and talks from innovators, changemakers, and entrepreneurial geniuses like Al Gore, Divyank Turakhia, Arianna Huffington, Jason Fiefer, Marcus Weldon and more.

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