Why Product Accessibility Shouldn’t Be an Afterthought

Having a good product or a service to sell is what we all want, isn’t it? However, it sometimes happens that even the best product cannot find its way to the customers and the main reason for such a case is product accessibility. Making sure that our product is accessible to every individual who might need it should be our ultimate goal. Most companies design products for average users, but that usually leaves some specific customers out of the picture. Some business owners are even unaware of the discrimination they are practicing by not making their products accessible. Read on to find out why product accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Over a billion people struggle with a disability of some kind. You would agree that the number is frightening. They deserve the same quality of life as anyone else. You can make an effort from your part to ensure that they can use your products without struggling.

Why online presence is so important

You are probably well aware of the fact that any company needs to find its place in the digital world. Unless people can find you online, it is as if you didn’t exist at all. That is why every successful company invests in its website, e-commerce platform, and social network pages. Those that combine all three channels to get to their audience are usually the ones with the best results. The digital world is volatile and search engines change their algorithms as you read this blog, so it is not always easy to be in the know about everything. That is why you should focus on your product or the services that you provide and let experts handle your website. They will make sure that potential buyers can easily come to you and that your product is showcased properly.

Ask yourself: Is my product accessible to everybody?

Not everybody needs and wants a product or service that you are providing, but you should make sure that those who do can easily access you. If you are aiming to make your website or an application fully accessible, you will have to consider a variety of users with their permanent or temporary limitations and likings.

Instead of asking yourself who can see and interact with your web page, maybe, you should think about those who can’t.

Accessibility doesn’t only apply to a small number of people. In fact, one in seven people is dealing with a disability of some sort. The list only starts with those living with the permanent visual, motor, auditory, and cognitive impairments and it is almost never-ending. Isn’t that a huge number of people to be left out? Certainly, some of them would be interested in what your company is selling if only they could access your content in a way appropriate for them.

Remember, you are the one who should be attracting possible users, not setting the barriers in front of them. 

What are the main elements of accessibility?

Implementing product accessibility might sound daunting, but it isn’t. Since you should keep your website updated and maintained at all times, you might as well address its accessibility shortcomings whenever you can. Here are some simple things you can do to make your website or app more approachable to everybody:

  • Add alternative text for non-text content,
  • Insert resizable images,
  • Add captions or sign language where the audio aspect is important,
  • Add audio descriptions to multimedia content with important visuals,
  • Choose larger fonts,
  • Enable touchscreen, keyboard, and voice navigation,
  • Optimize menus for alternative ways of navigation,
  • Add adjustable audio control options,
  • Include alternative languages;

There are many more ways to make your content accessible to everybody, but the listed elements are good starting points. Of course, you do not have to do all of these actions at once, but try to implement as many as possible. A small effort from your part can have a huge effect on your product placement.

Start by assessing your accessibility

You can use some online tools to assess your product accessibility. Some of those tools are free to use and they will give you the results very quickly. Once you get them, you can start improving your website or application to make it user-friendly to people with various disabilities.

Take one step at a time

Bear in mind that none of the abovementioned elements is enough by itself and will not cover all the challenges that people are dealing with. However, each one will bring you a new circle of possible users and broaden your customer database. You can start by adding alternative text to the images on your website or app. This action is not time-consuming, and it can be very useful to people using screen reading software. There you go, you have added a new number of possible users to your database. The second step might be inserting captions or sign language to help hearing-impaired people. Go on and make sure that the contrast between your text and its background is sharp and that your fonts are large enough for people with low vision.

By adding the new layers of accessibility, you are increasing the number of your potential customers. 

When is the right time to implement the elements of accessibility?

It is never too late to implement the accessibility elements, but the sooner you start, the more benefits you will get. For instance, the right time should be before building a fintech product, or before launching an e-commerce business. The implementation takes time, expertise, and resources. That is why many website owners still choose to sit back and not do anything about it. But, you should take the bull by the horns and do it right away.

You will have a healthier budget if you decide that product accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought

At first, you will need to take some time to learn about how you can implement accessibility. Some training programs can help you and your team start. But once these elements become a part of your practice, everything will go more smoothly. In the long run, the implementation will even save you some time. There are QA tests for bugs that have to be fixed for a website or an app to work properly. If you start adding accessibility to your digital product from the start, you will have less of those bugs to deal with. Since it takes much longer to fix the code than to be more thorough and do it right at the beginning, that means more time left for you to do something else rather than fixing. Plus, rewriting the large sections of your codebase will negatively affect your budget.

Here are some examples to prove what we are talking about. Imagine you are opening a restaurant. It is cheaper for you to consider installing the elevator or a ramp for people using a wheelchair from the beginning of the project. If you fail to do so, once you open your restaurant and people start coming in, you have already lost on all the guests that cannot climb the stairs. Why would you do that to your business? In the digital world, adding an audio description for your restaurant’s menu items can be the equivalent to the physical ramp you should install.

Product accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought, but you should have it in mind throughout the entire product development cycle

Here are the steps of the product development cycle where you can include the accessibility features:

  • Customer research should be your starting point – People with an impairment know what they need and what can improve the quality of their lives, so you should consult them.
  • Always include it in a roadmap – Every time you make a bigger change on your website or in your app, you should think about adding some more layers of accessibility. Plus, if you have a roadmap for accessibility, you will be in a better legal position if somebody decides to sue your company over inaccessibility.
  • Every time you review your design, you should also review your accessibility – By adding some new characteristics, you might unintentionally add some new obstacles for users with any kind of impairment. So, now and then you should make a pause to check whether your product is still as approachable as it should be.
  • Focus on accessibility in testing – There are certain requirements that you should add to your QA to get more detailed results about how your product is accessible. For example, the tests should be done using screen readers, in high contrast mode, and keyboard navigation.
  • Include various beta testers – The more different testers you consult, the better overall image of the product you will have. This means that if you are testing your product for accessibility, you should make a group of people who have various disabilities. Their feedback will help you see in which fields you are doing great, and where there is still some room for improvement.

Better accessibility means better SEO

Websites that are user-friendly for people with impairments are ranked higher by search engines. Thanx to their alternative texts, resizable images, and added subtitles, these pages have better navigability. Thus, they offer a better user experience not only to people with disabilities but to everyone visiting the website in question as well.

Speaking about SEO, some designers are afraid that too many elements of accessibility would be a burden for page loading times, so they just decide to leave them out.

Better late than never – you can add the accessibility later on too, but think about the cost of it

Building up the accessibility as you build your website or an app is the right thing to do. However, if you were unaware of its importance or you left it out for any other reason, there is a solution. You can add it later but be prepared for plenty of redesigns and refactoring. If your product is developing the way it should, you will have to make it more accessible at some point. You are the one to decide when. Addressing accessibility as one of the elements of product strategy will save you time and money too. Many companies can help you by taking the technical worries off your shoulders.

Permanently disabled people are not the only ones who need better product accessibility

There are at least two more groups of people who can benefit from the accessibility of your product. The first one consists of people with temporary impairments. When we break an arm or a leg, for example, we are temporarily disabled to do some of the things that we regularly do. A simple action like using smartphone apps when your arm is broken can turn into a nightmare unless the app supports voice access too. Similarly, it can be very difficult for people who have just undergone a laser vision correction to use a website that doesn’t include the features for visually impaired users.

Situational impairments can strike every one of us. It often happens that we are in a loud place and we cannot hear the content of a website that we want to. You can lose a potential customer just because you didn’t add the optional subtitle to your audio content. Or, for example, with our hands full, we will be unable to interact with your pages if you haven’t provided accessibility. Maybe the most irritating thing that comes to mind when talking about situational impairments is being blinded by the sun when trying to use your phone outside.

As you can see, there is not a single person who is not disabled (at least temporarily) at some point in his/her life. Implementing accessibility to your products will make their experience more convenient. And you can only imagine what impact these improved features can have on people with permanent impairments. Instead of excluding them, you can help them live more independently. Besides finding a way how not to fail in one year if your company is brand new, you will get the added satisfaction of doing the right thing.

Legal ramifications also prove that you should prioritize accessibility instead of making it an afterthought

Making your product accessible to a wider audience has its benefits, and some of those we have already discussed. However, if you are not ready to invest in accessibility, you risk setting yourself up for legal action. Customers are becoming more aware of their rights and they want to be treated equally no matter what disabilities they are struggling with. They might argue that you are the one not allowing them to have full enjoyment and the equal experience of your product, so you might be in trouble.

In September 2010, the American Department of Justice published the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. According to them, all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities. There is also an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 508 regulations) which applies to all information technology. That includes computer software, hardware, and documentation.

Europe has its EU Web Accessibility Directive it updated in September 2018. The directive implies that all public sector websites and web applications in EU member states must implement, enforce and maintain accessibility standards. If they fail to do so, they risk fines and legal penalties.

The number of legal suits over inaccessibility is on the rise

A few years ago, some huge companies like Toys R Us, Target and Netflix were sued over inaccessibility. Ever since then, the number of legal actions against website owners and app designers is on the rise. ADA advocates argue that these kinds of obstacles to access are the perfect example of the violation of civil rights, as well as limiting participation in society and communication.

Be that as it may, under federal law, people with disabilities can only demand a remedy to the accessibility problem. They cannot receive a financial settlement other than the value of the attorney fees.

But besides legal, there is also a moral basis for investing in product accessibility.

Web designers shouldn’t focus on accessibility only to avoid getting sued. That can be more of a motive for business owners to invest more to avoid legal action. Making accessibility a priority instead of an afterthought is just the right thing to do. The more people realize this, the more inclusive our society will become.

Socially responsible companies have started implementing the elements of accessibility, but it is still not the mandatory requirement for all websites and applications. In theory, everybody agrees that no one should be denied the opportunity to take part in the world and enjoy its solutions due to their limitations. In practice, not so many companies are ready to do something about it. Hopefully, now it is clear why product accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought since both sides can benefit from it.

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Lisa Roberts
Lisa Roberts has been engaged in writing blog articles for the last 7 years. Although she started off her career in the moving industry, writing for big company names, experience brought her diversification in the content she covers. Today, her range of topics spans from moving across the globe to everyday lifestyle tips, traveling, marketing and software-related news etc. In her spare time, Lisa enjoys running, reading books and spending time with her dogs Lue and Sill. As a great lover of life, she finds something practical and useful in every experience, which contributes to her portfolio as well.
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