by Shaun Juncal
Product Nerd Commentary: As someone who came into the world of technology via the social work route, I’ve always been cognizant of bias in our products and the need for better product accessibility. If an HR Practitioner is blind, for instance, does the technology allow them to interact with it without tremendous additional efforts. Yes, there are solutions out there like Jaws, but even they are dependent on solution providers to create the tags necessary to read the screen data properly. Shaun does a great job below laying out this topic in a very informative way.
I recently attended a presentation by Benjamin Evans, Inclusive Design Lead at Airbnb, on product accessibility and his experience with designing for inclusion. It really got me thinking about how we build products in tech and the inherent biases in product management.
In an environment that prizes “minimum viability” and “failing fast” there’s seldom much of an appetite for slowing down the parade of new features and functionality to prioritize product accessibility. For scrappy startups and budget-conscious ventures, the resources, time and expertise for such efforts are typically not available or deployed elsewhere. At ProductPlan, we certainly feel the challenge of prioritizing inclusive design on our roadmap, and will be the first to admit that we haven’t made our product as accessible as it should be.
But addressing accessibility early and often—if not making it an ongoing pillar of product quality—is a best practice every product team should embrace. Accessibility enables the maximum number of potential users to engage with products, increasing the total addressable market and avoiding frustrated customers from getting tripped up on accessibility shortcomings.
There’s also both a legal and moral underpinning to investing in product accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires accessibility, which includes some digital products and is often a fundamental requirement for large enterprises and any government or government-related operation. Furthermore, making a product accessible to as many people as possible is simply the right thing to do—no one should be denied their opportunity to participate in the world and utilize solutions due to their limitations.
But what’s the best way to make accessibility a fundamental element of product strategy? And when is the right time to make it a mandatory requirement and not just a nice-to-have backlog item? Let’s explore what product accessibility really means and how to incorporate it into the corporate playbook.
Elements of Accessibility
Making websites and applications fully accessible means considering the wide variety of users and their various limitations and preferences. There’s plenty of great content that goes into the exacting details of accessibility, but in a nutshell the main items include:
- Text alternatives for non-text content
- Captions or sign language for multimedia with audio
- Audio descriptions for multimedia that has important visual aspects
- Optimized labels and menus for alternative navigation techniques
- Limiting the use of color for informational or navigational purposes
- Supporting larger fonts/zoom
- Adjustable audio controls
- Resizable images
- Keyboard, touchscreen and voice navigation support
- Extendable time limits for text-heavy pop-ups, interstitials, etc.
- Alternative language options/localization