Imagine all the life conveniences that exist thanks to digital technology. You can see and talk to a loved one traveling on the other side of the world. You can deposit a check by taking a picture of it instead of waiting for the bank to open. You can talk to a device on the other side of the room to take care of everything from ordering pizza to finalizing travel plans.
Digital products and technology have become an indispensable part of daily life. However, some users are excluded from the very things that are supposed to make life easier, thanks to poorly designed websites, applications, technologies and tools that do not have an accessible UX.
The web is supposed to work for all people, regardless of hardware, software, language, location or ability. Government regulations and policy have more or less caught up with this reality, and there are countless resources for development teams to follow industry guidelines and incorporate best practices. But I have one persistent question…
Why is accessibility an afterthought in UX?
Why create products with the goal of meeting regulatory compliance or following industry guidelines? What if we got out of the operational habit of treating accessibility as a box to check in the product design process? What if, in the course of product design, we were able to design and develop the best possible product for all users, regardless of their ability, location, language or device?
While achieving compliance in your digital products is important, it’s a first step. Make it your goal to reach ALL users through the practice of inclusive design.
Inclusive design is a holistic approach to product design that, in philosophy and practice, yields products that are usable for everyone to the greatest extent possible. Inclusive design aligns with other product development best practices such as search engine and mobile optimization, device independence and multimodal interaction. Treating inclusive design as an input yields an output of greater accessibility and, consequently, government compliance, modeling industry best practices, and even the potential of elevated brand perception.
Everyone is responsible for — and can contribute meaningfully to — inclusive design. Product owners need to make it a priority and influence their peers on the importance of inclusive design. Development teams need to own inclusive design by staying abreast of developments and helping each other with resources, checklists, quality control processes and more. Testing and research owns inclusive design by engaging with users with disabilities to test products and interpret feedback into actionable tasks that improve products.
How can you move forward?
Take a beat to look around. Evaluate candidly whether your team is designing for the user or for compliance. Review your process and see where accessibility and inclusion enter the conversation and determine where you can improve your process. Consider new resources, especially for research, by finding users with diverse backgrounds and unique situations that could impact how they use your product. Include them in product development.
Making changes like this can transform your team’s thinking so that inclusive design becomes second nature.