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The Infusion of Accessibility

March 2022: Article by Edward Wald, Accessibility Specialist for Mobile and Design Systems

Accessibility users

When you think of accessibility users, you may think about their inability to perform at a level on par with the average user. I would like to help you see that this is not necessarily true. The term disability defines someone as disabled. The reality is, most people identified as disabled are actually very capable. Accessibility users are simply challenged to make up for one or more faculties by utilizing coping tools we refer to as “heightened cognitive skills.”

The truth is, we do have the ability to provide the means for most accessibility users to interact with electronic content on a level very close too, if not the same, as standard users. As accessibility experts, we are very interested in these heightened cognitive skills and leverage them to make up for deficiencies experienced in other areas. In fact, the benefits of leverage design concepts, involved with heightened cognitive skills, extends to all users whether they have accessibility challenges or not.

Accessibility infusion

Approaching user interaction design with the intention of understanding what users can do empowers us to successfully engage the widest possible audience. We consider a high level of inclusion to be the goal of implementing accessibility; it’s what we always strive to achieve. This only happens when everyone involved with developing content takes an active part to make sure accessibility is properly addressed as it relates to their role and deliverables. The truth is, accessibility experts are only effective when they are supported by designers and developers, and to do this, it requires that each resource take some responsibility for accessibility in their area of expertise. This is because accessibility must be addressed for each and every point of user interaction and for every line of code. To properly implement accessibility, it must be infused into the design and coding of products.

The common understanding of an accessibility expert’s role is to look for and fix issues that impact accessibility users. This is true to an extent; however, it is only partially effective and relying on this approach can be costly in effort, quality, and the ability to consistently deliver usable products. There must be a holistic approach toward accessibility during development to deliver accessibility compliant products. Additionally, just as the proper implementation of accessibility benefits all users, learning the principles of accessibility improves the skills of all resources building products. This is because accessibility is just a specialized extension of delivering good usability, which is already taking place, by including a set of accessibility user personas.

Accessibility personas

There are some accessibility tools, like screen readers and braille readers, that are required to be supported. But the reality is, they are not very effective unless we accept and support the accessibility personas as an equal part of the design and development process. During last year’s KP’s December Mobile Days presentation, I talked about these accessibility personas in simple terms, and how project resources embrace them as part of the standard development process.

The video of this presentation is less than 10 minutes and explains how our product teams are implementing accessibility. This is not a highly technical presentation, it’s in very simple to understand language with engaging visual examples. I hope you take advantage of the opportunity to watch this quick video. I assure you it will be impactful and will improve your understanding of accessibility along with seeing how our teams strive to address it while building products.
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