Accessibility for All: ADA Compliance is Good For Business AND Humankind

By Chris Seda, SVP, Director of Experience Design for the FCB Health Network

A few years ago, I was on my daily commute on the LIRR, when the doors opened at one of the usual stops on my way into Manhattan. At this stop, I noticed a passenger board with his trusted service dog at his side. He made his way to the seat next to me and, once settled in, he wasted no time getting to work on his iPhone. As a UX practitioner and designer of digital experiences, I immediately took notice of how he—as a blind user—effortlessly interacted with his smartphone. He dictated messages using his phone’s language processing and speech-to-text and read through pages of emails and websites using the built-in screen reading technology. He was consuming and creating content without hesitation, all because Apple thoughtfully included these much-needed accessibility features that make it all possible. As someone who regularly evangelizes the importance of user-centered design and digital inclusion for all, it was truly inspiring to see these features being used for their intended purposes.

So, why is this so important?

Imagine this scenario: you walk up to a new pizza shop, ready to satisfy your hunger with a slice; only to find that there’s an obstacle course you have to overcome in order to even place your order. Do you attempt the course, or simply find another pizzeria that is easier to access? As marketers, we would never want potential customers to leave our clients’ websites to go off to the competition, just because they do a better job of providing the much-needed resources and provisions to conduct business. Instead, we would consider ways to optimize the service design of getting that slice. Of course, there would be the handicap-accessible ramp to get in the door. If the store is really forward thinking, they might have a kiosk with audio cues to assist with their order. At the very least, and if all else fails, there would most likely be an employee available to help the customer place their order.

Chris Seda

This kind of scenario happens on a daily basis in our digital world where customers are left to their own devices to navigate the virtual spaces that we create for them. Except that the obstacles may come through as features or functionality that are unusable to an end user simply because the site was not designed with accessibility in mind, rendering the interface incompatible with the user’s assistive device. Or perhaps the obstacle is an inability to get through content for users that rely on their keyboard versus a mouse to navigate a site; so instead of providing a linear flow of content, it’s more like a game of whack-a-mole with the cursor keys.

Whatever the case, these scenarios show missed opportunities to connect with potential new users—or a whole new segment of users—and other people that have interests like you and me. That’s basically what’s going on throughout the Web, because so many brands have yet to catch up to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), for digital inclusion and accessibility for all users.

Now some may argue, “But our company sells binoculars (or choose any product or service you believe wouldn’t be of interest to a person with disabilities) on our web site. Is a blind person really going to buy a pair of binoculars?” Good point. Maybe it won’t be until we have the long-awaited flying car, that binoculars are made with a Neuralink connection allowing blind users to birdwatch like the sighted user (C’mon Elon, you can make it happen!). But what about that segment we all have to consider: “The Gifter.” Is it possible that a blind or print-disabled parent may want to buy binoculars for their daughter so she can pick up the hobby of birding? Do we really want to exclude these two generations from becoming patrons of our business?

Then there are the legal implications

If you haven’t already heard about the Domino’s case with the U.S. Supreme Court, be sure to Google it. The “TL;DR” version is essentially that a man using an assistive device couldn’t order a pizza online from Dominos, like every other sighted customer could. He expected to do something that should be—and could be—so easy when he arrived at their site; but was met with the metaphorical obstacle course. Domino’s argued whether their site was really required to be accessible to the disabled; lost the argument, and as a result, all non-compliant sites became a liability overnight.

Remember though, this was an individual case. Is it only a matter of time before we start hearing about the class-action lawsuits? Remember all the stories of Patent Trolls snatching up nebulous patents to take advantage of? How long before the inevitable scourge of “Accessibility Trolls” ascend from the depths of the Web hunting for vulnerable companies and organizations they can exploit?

Put users first, and the rest will follow

The simplest solution is to focus on the fundamentals. Remember to put the users’ needs first: ensure that digital equity is at the forefront of your business plans. Make it a proactive measure and part of every one of your product backlogs. Additionally, consider creative ways to leverage emerging tech such as voice, in order to implement functionality with Conversational AI, so that users with disabilities don’t have to rely so much on a screen or the typical input devices in order to communicate with your brands. 

And finally, don’t just rely on some free Chrome plug-ins to test your site; but instead, test with users that rely on assistive devices. I’m fortunate enough to still be in touch with—and now work with—Albert, the friend I made on the train, who also happens to run an organization specializing in manual accessibility testing. Proudly wear your sash or badge or whatever it may be that shows you pledge to do what’s right for Albert and others like him. Remembering that it’s not just about what’s good for business, but more importantly, what’s good for humankind. Because with some proper code and an attention to detail, we can make a tremendous impact on how the Web treats us all.

 

About the author

Chris is a digital native with over a decade of experience as a leader and practitioner of user-centric digital product design. He has created applications and products for companies in multiple categories including consumer electronics, healthcare, and automotive. All have been driven by user metrics in order to promote change in user behavior.   

Currently, he is SVP, Director of Experience Design for the FCB Health Network, where he leads a team of digital experts who specialize in focusing on the users’ needs and digital inclusion; ensuring that the end product is not only compelling and engaging, but also usable and accessible to all.