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digital accessibility driven by global crisis

Ryan Eagan
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The world is a much different place than it was at the beginning of the year. As I write this, I’m going on week 11 of working remotely, confined to my home with limited weekly trips to buy food and necessities that I either can’t get online or have delivered. I used to think my life was pretty digitally driven, but now I’ve leveled up, as have many, to a life where the web is my sole connection to the rest of the world.

So many daily activities are now conducted through the web, from shopping to virtual appointments with the dentist, the latter of which involves taking photos of the inside of my mouth with my phone and submitting them through their website.

But just because everything is digital, that doesn’t mean there’s a smooth transition to everything being accessible.

I recently read an article in The Guardian by Dr. Frances Ryan, author of Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People. In her article, she highlights how the current pandemic has opened doors to a more inclusive society for individuals with disabilities. Museum walkthroughs, concerts, and church services are now readily available as digital online experiences. Where once there were many barriers preventing persons with disabilities from having equal access and equal opportunities, now the playing field has been leveled, to some extent.

Except you can’t ignore the playing field still works much better for some. Websites and digital services are generally designed around an idealized customer, focused on bringing them the most value through the content, products, or services offered. They are designed to attract attention, align with brand identities, and be visually stunning with animations, and infographics. They’re built for the digital and technology savvy: those who can zip around a website or app with lightning speed.

Since the start of the pandemic, many businesses have limited their brick and mortar spaces and in turn turned to digital options for everything from ordering food to buying a car. For many of us, the impact is nominal, while for others it has become a nightmare. Websites and digital experiences designed for the tech-savvy provide interactions that are grossly mismatched with our very diverse human population. In essence, these sites and experiences are exclusive and deny individuals equal access and opportunity.

Ask yourself, is your website exclusive or is it inclusive? When we think about disabilities and accessibility, we tend to think of an individual using a wheelchair or an individual who may be legally blind. What about that parent or grandparent with arthritis who might not have the dexterity to click a small text link on their iPad? How about that friend who is color blind and may not be able to make out the text because of the poor contrast with the complementary background color?

Sometimes exclusions are temporary or situational. Many of us have faced challenges as a result of temporary injuries, or the environment we’re in at the time. We all have limits to our abilities in one way or another and at times have experienced exclusion as a result. If the interaction experience with your website is frustrating or unusable for an individual, how does that make them feel? Interactions are more than transactions, they are experiences that evoke an emotion.

Your brand is your identity. It is what someone identifies with when they think of a service or product. Their experience drives their decision to buy your product or service. A customer who experiences exclusion when interacting with your digital experience will walk away with negative emotions that they now associate to your brand. Providing a positive experience through inclusive design to promote accessibility actively demonstrates your commitment to valuing your customers and their diversity.

As the current global paradigm shifts, the digital landscape will be forever changed. As Dr. Ryan showed, many experiences thought to be limited to those with a certain set of abilities have now proven that they can be inclusive to all. Barriers to equality in the digital space are being broken at record pace, and thus setting a precedent for what digital accessibility means for the future.

I and the rest of the andculture team share a passion for human-centered technology. We believe every individual should have equal opportunity, regardless of ability. If you want to learn more about how inclusive design can help improve your brand and digital experience, let’s talk.