During COVID, reliance on the digital world is higher than it ever has been and that has had major consequences, both negative and positive, on the way we live. Not the least of which are the challenges faced by people with disabilities, because they’re being forced into digital environments that weren’t adequately built for them. Disabled university students, for example, have lost their access to on-campus aids and much of their asynchronous educational resources are in non-accessible PDF formats.
However, more online activity has also raised awareness in the general public of the impact of digital accessibility, including the variety of aspects of accessibility unrelated to disability, such as connectivity and education.
Still, increased awareness has not yielded an increase in action. According to the Deque survey of 270 accessibility practitioners on the pandemic’s impact on digital accessibility, “demand for accessibility is up, and lots of policy action, but little in the way of resourcing or engagement.” So here are our tips on how to actually put awareness into practice and effectively advocate for accessibility:
- Strive for practicality over perfection: Not everyone needs to know every single thing about accessibility. Rather than trying to create accessibility specialists, focus on teaching people to be knowledgeable enough of accessibility as it applies to their own processes and tools. Keep the bar achievable and you’re less likely to set your team up for burnout as a result of information overload.
- Capitalize on combined knowledge: Whether it’s by starting an #accessibility Slack channel or setting up team “Lunch and Learn” events, create a space to foster further education and discussion. Provide an opportunity for folks to share resources, ideas, and to ask their “dumb” questions. And don’t forget to follow others for inspiration.
- Connect with the real community and real tools: Invite people with differing abilities who want to communicate their needs to actually do so directly via user testing and interviews. Be prepared to compassionately listen to and amplify those voices. And while you’re at it, bring in assistive technology to manually demo and test the experiences you’re building. While this doesn’t fully replace testing with actual users with disabilities, it is helpful for catching problems in the meantime.
- Bake it in again, and again, and again: Every step from planning to development should consider how it will impact accessibility. Be proactive with adding suggestions for accessibility solutions to processes, deliverables, and tasks, even if they’re half-baked. Teams will be more likely to work off any sort of direction since it’s easier than going off of nothing.
- View product usability through the lens of equity:A site or application that is technically compliant with accessibility standards but provides a clunky, unattractive, and unusable experience to users with disabilities is in our view a failure. Only by taking an inclusive, equitable approach to product development do we honor both the letter and the spirit of accessible design. Our products should be an effortless joy to use for all.
The final and most often overlooked recommendation is to set concrete, unique goals and metrics. An accessibility goal is a plan to remove as many barriers as possible for all users to complete a desired action on the website or digital tool. Designing a system that is difficult to use will directly affect the project’s impact. Drafting an accessibility goal will be more successful if it is unique to your project.
The goal should reflect the way your target audience will engage with the digital tool. For example, a website most often visited by mobile users should prioritize large, visually distinct click targets for easier navigation. It’s equally important to reduce the total page weight, since cellular connectivity speeds can vary so widely. The point being, every photo, promo, dropdown, and pop-up potentially makes something harder to use or longer to load. Each feature should be evaluated not by can it be added, but should it be added.