Inclusive cultures strive to make people – all people - feel valued and proud of who they are. Statistically, diversity in the workplace indicates that inclusive companies are more likely to create a workforce that reflects a variety of backgrounds, experiences and needs. Often though, for a number of reasons, there is a demographic that is excluded from these efforts and that is those with disabilities.
For example, according to the CDC.gov website, roughly 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have some sort of vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind, 3 million who have vision impairment after correction, and 8 million who have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error. Visual impairment is defined as “…the limitation of actions and functions of the human visual system..” and the National Eye Institute defines low vision as “…a visual impairment not correctable by standard glasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery that interferes with the ability to perform activities of daily living…”.
Learning, Understanding, Doing
A visual impairment is significant as it can affect or otherwise impede an individual’s ability to learn and understand. On the website, evansandpiggotteyecare.com, an article named “four ways poor vision can affect learning (in) children” explains that “…with a vision-related learning problem (an individual) will typically lose their place while reading as well as confuse similar looking words because they can't properly see the text…” and “…because of this, those with poor vision often show signs of poor reading comprehension and may struggle to keep up…(with assignments)…”.
We know that Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported. It's all about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential, so supporting those with disabilities should be an important part of every inclusion effort.
Further, employers with at least 15 employees must adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that prevents discrimination against individuals with disabilities which include visual and hearing impairments. To comply with the ADA, companies may need to make adaptations to accommodate (and include) an employee with a visual impairment and this should include computer applications and interfaces.
Designing software applications with accessibility in mind enables people with a range of abilities and disabilities to perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and “use” an application and, if an application or practice is easy to understand, then it is more likely to be adopted and used (a good thing!).
The act of designing for accessibility should not focus only on those with some kind of disability but rather designing for all audiences to create what is referred to as a “universal design” (or “UD”).
Universal designed applications have been documented to create a “curb-cut effect”, which suggests that applications that are created to benefit people with disabilities frequently also benefit a much larger user group and therefor increase the size of the market for the developed application.
Steps to Software Accessibility
Suppose as part of every software development project there is time allocated to discuss the importance of inclusion and accessibility, to consider how the proposed solution can be designed to be compliant and finally, to test the solution for accessibility compliance? Formally allocating project time in this fashion goes a long way towards validating these needs and promoting inclusion.
Discussing Inclusion and Accessibility
The interaction design foundation article named “3 reasons why accessible design is good for all” explains that “Most designers probably agree that they want to create designs and interfaces that don’t exclude users with disabilities, but, unfortunately, accessibility considerations are often one of the first things to get cut when resources or time becomes scarce”. They also state that “…skimping on accessibility is short-sighted and that there are important reasons for placing such emphasis on designing for accessibility…”. This article goes on to say that there is a moral reason (to create accessible designs), there may also be a legal one (more laws are being instituted that may leave you vulnerable to lawsuits) and finally, an overlooked reason, that accessibility is actually good for business since it expands your user base and cultivates inclusion.
Designing for Accessibility Compliance
Moving towards creating an accessible solution can start with “the basics”, like leveraging features already available to your users, for example:
Web Browsers – Most applications today are cloud-based and are delivered through a Web Browser. If a solution utilizes a Web Browser in any way you should be sure to include references to these features within both the product documentation and as part of any offered training.
Operating Systems – Most operating systems (for example MS Windows) offer features that can make interfacing with a solution more accessible. For example, you can change the default display settings in the operating system of your computer, which will apply to all applications, rather than simply changing the settings of your web browser.
Designing for accessibility requires an understanding of what factors may have the largest effect on accessibility, some which may or may not be “obvious”. The following is a short list of examples:
- Enlarged Text and Images – avoiding complicating fonts and simply resizing text (to at least 12 points) and images in a solution can have a huge impact on the overall solution accessibility and should be relatively easy to implement.
- “Alt” or Alternative Text for All Images - a best practice when working with any images should be to make sure the image has text associated with it. Individuals utilizing a screen reading device rely on these tags to “see” what the image is. This is another item that is easy to implement.
- Contrast, Color and Patterns - By using adequately contrasting colors, a font’s visibility can be stark enough to distinguish and read by more individuals.
- Minimalism - Minimalism refers to “eliminating excess” and strategically placing objects within a design so as to add value (to the user experience) rather than distracting the user from accomplishing goals.
- Dark mode design - In dark mode, you utilize a darker color palette for screens, views, menus, and controls, and more vibrancy making foreground content stand out against darker backgrounds.
- Keyboard versus Mouse - Some individuals are incapable of using a mouse, such as users with limited fine motor control. An accessible solution does not depend on a mouse since all functionality is available from a keyboard so that individuals with disabilities can use assistive technologies that mimic the keyboard, such as speech input.
- Transcription for Audio - just as images aren’t available to people who can’t see, audio files aren’t available to people who can’t hear. Providing a text transcript makes the audio information accessible to people who are hearing impaired (there are transcription services that can create text transcripts in most formats for use in a solution).
Testing for Accessibility Compliance
Software testing is the process of evaluating and verifying that a software solution does what it is supposed to do. Accessibility compliance testing is part of usability testing and is similar to other testing types but allows you to collect information about how the solution is used by people with certain types of disabilities, and its goal is to make the benefits of the solution available to individuals, businesses, and society in general. Where accessibility testing may be different to “typical” solution testing is that a solution may yield a correct result, however, fail the test since, for example, a visually impaired person is not able to access or “see” all or a portion of the solutions output.
If your organization is not experienced with accessibility testing, you can start by utilizing a number of free (trial) or “pay as you go” online services that will perform a real-time evaluation of your solution. accessibe and audioeye are examples of such services. After a solution evaluation, most services will produce an “accessibility audit report” that can be used by designers and developers as a guide for future developments.
There is no doubt that diversity and inclusion need to be part of every organizational culture. The hope for the future is companies acknowledging the needs of the disabled community, evaluate their design and development processes and implementing accessibility standards to ensure that every individual has an equal opportunity to access every solution.
The team at QueBIT is committed to Inclusion and Diversity and constantly strives to improve in this area, applying what we know (and learn) using a blend of software engineering and purposeful implementation by means of carefully selected platforms that provide a level of control over the interface, to serve all individuals.