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Accessibility means designing for yourself too

17 January 2017

Accessibility is most commonly associated with designing for “people with disabilities”. And even when we talk about it being for “everyone”, the concept is still so abstract, it tends to carry the idea that accessibility is for someone else.

A different group. An other.

But this only tells half the story.

“Everyone” includes you — yes, you.

Let’s say you’re trying out a brand new recipe. It’s pretty advanced stuff, but you don’t mind the challenge. But then, sirens sing out! A baby cries! A pot boils over, your sink catches fire and your fridge runs away with the microwave.

A million problems vie for your attention and you’re overwhelmed. Your brain simply can’t handle that many tasks at once. Welcome to a cognitive handicap.

Or let’s say you’re travelling and the internet access isn’t what you’re used to. Or maybe it’s blazing fast but you’re on a tight and expensive quota restriction. Welcome to a technological handicap.

Now, how about waking up with the flu or a migraine. The pain makes it hard to focus your eyes and you could do with everyone being a little quieter. Welcome to a sensory handicap. It happens to the best of us.

At some point in your life, you will experience a ‘disability’.

Maybe not the permanent kind. Maybe not the kind that qualifies you for government assistance. But even if you’re lucky enough to live a stress-free, disease-free life with all-you-can-eat internet, you’ll probably still grow old.

Tiny, low-contrast text will get harder to read. Visual noise will get more distracting. After retirement, maybe you won’t be able to afford tech that easily handles what today’s sites and apps might become.

And yet, given what we know, accessibility can still be a hard sell. This comes from a misconception that accessibility needs to be the extra stage in a project – when, in reality, it’s just another facet of designing and developing well.

Think of accessibility as a gift for your future self.

I’ll be the first to admit that I invest more in creating accessible products when I know I’ll benefit from it too. Selfish? Probably. But it’s hardly an unreasonable response. And I don’t think I’m the only one who does this.

When you can relate to an outcome, it’s easier to appreciate the nuances of the experience. The idea of being in that situation feels more real, so you’re able to put in the extra empathy and creativity needed to produce a great piece of work.

It’s only a tiny shift in thinking, to regard accessible apps and sites as gifts for your future self. But it’s one that comes closer to promising a product you can use no matter what your situation.


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