Without a disability or handicap, it’s easy to use your computer, tablet, or smartphone without ever noticing your device's accessibility features. Without a disability, it's also doubtful that you’ve purchased an assistive app or been frustrated with a piece of software which isn’t designed with accessibility in mind. This isn’t the case for approximately one billion people worldwide living with disabilities, for millions of them assistive digital products has helped to remove day-to-day impediments, provide education, as well as open up the workplace and the world. Assistive digital technology is to the benefit of all, inclusive design is not only the right thing to do it also puts your company (specifically your product developers) in a better position to leverage accessibility features in mainstream products.
What Exactly is Digital Accessibility?
Digital Accessibility is the deliberate design of products, devices, services, and environments for people living with disabilities. Accessibility is not usability, it’s not how well a given product, device, service or environment can achieve a certain goal but rather it is simply the ability to access a given product's benefits. It is creating apps for the hearing impaired, education software for children with autism, and braille keyboards. It is also about creating mass market products with a universal design, where accessibility is in the product’s DNA.
The Digital Accessibility Landscape
Apple and Apple products like the iPad, iPhone, and Macbook is the go to line of products for people living with disabilities. This is simply because Apple has worked more universal design and accessibility into their products than anyone else. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 is the high water mark for assistive digital technology. The iPhone introduced an extremely powerful handheld device with both sight and sound capabilities. New Apple products like Apple Pay, the Apple Watch, and the recently released iOS 9 are all examples of products with fantastic and advanced accessibility features. Apple consistently improves its core of assistive features like customizable gestures for motor skill disabilities and voice over technology for the sight impaired. Other platforms and technologies, like Android, are catching up to Apple but still have a long way to go before becoming the primary choice for people with special needs.
There is a growing market for assistive apps and software which in turns pushes mainstream apps towards accessibility. When the ride-hailing app Gett introduced baked-in voice guidance features for blind and visually impaired customers (as well as instructing all their drivers to allow guide dogs), Uber quickly responded by releasing a podcast demonstrating how Uber could be used via iOS’s VoiceOver capabilities. There is a growing market for purely assistive apps like Talkitt, an app designed to help people with speech disabilities by learning their distinctive speech patterns and translating them into more intelligible speech. Another great example from the assistive app market isBeMyEyes, a live video link app in which sight volunteers aid the blind and visually impaired via their smartphone’s camera.
Why Digital Accessibility Benefits Everyone...
Morality aside, investing in assistive technology is often beneficial to companies for a variety of reasons. The market is large and underserved, Gartner estimates that people living with disabilities, as well as their immediate friends and family also benefitting from assistive products, represent around $8 trillion in annual disposable income. Furthermore, just about every assistive innovation has a mass-market application which improves overall CX, from typing on your smartphone while wearing mittens to using text-to-speech to proofread a blog post. Internally, product development teams working with accessibility as a core-value often deliver products with better CX for everyone.
As my colleague Len Gilbert wrote last month, “A truly customer-centric company understands the direct correlation between listening to their customers and achieving better business outcomes, they strive to constantly improve their customer’s experience.” Digital accessibility matters because accessible products can change the lives of those living with disabilities more than any other customer demographic while improving your company's agility and bottomline. Any company serious about customer centricity, should have digital accessibility built into corporate DNA and should be top of mind during product development. Pushing for digital accessibility fosters both innovation and inclusivity to everyone’s benefit.