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Accessibility: Critical Necessity or Just Another Product Feature?

October 30, 2015 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Can you imagine walking into the coffee shop down the street you have patronized for the past five years one morning only to be shown the door and told you are no longer welcome here? How would you feel if you showed up to work one day only to be informed your services were no longer needed and escorted out of the building? How would a technological equivalent to either of these scenarios feel? When a product or service is inaccessible, do you just chalk it up to a bug or incompatibility, or do you consider yourself excluded from participation on terms of equality with your sighted peers? How many of you are exhausted with the status quo of being invited in from the cold for awhile, only to find the same door has suddenly slammed shut in your face later?

Even among the most accessible companies, I believe there remains a huge disparity between their product-feature approach to accessibility and the comprehensive approach to accessibility we need in order to fully participate in the world around us on terms of equality.

What is the “product feature” approach to accessibility about which I am referring? I believe it is simply the concept that accessibility of a piece of hardware or software for people with disabilities is treated as just one of many product features. If an update to the product breaks this feature, well, that’s just too bad. It’s one of many bugs we’ll get around to fixing according to our complex prioritization scheme and product release cycle. The key point is that, even when it is supposedly built into a product, accessibility is still often treated as a separate, optional capability.

In contrast, employing a comprehensive approach means that a product is developed with accessibility baked in as part of its core functionality. Product design is conducted with the needs of everyone, including people with disabilities, in mind. Product development is conducted in accordance with internationally accepted accessibility industry standards and vendor’s accessibility standards. When a line of code is created or changed, accessibility implications are always considered among the possible implications for users.

So, where do we go from here? While the overall amount of accessibility of technology-based products and services is probably increasing for blind people, it is not consistent. What was accessible yesterday may have just become inaccessible today, and might or might not become accessible again tomorrow. As a blind community, we must not let the current state of affairs stand unchallenged! So, what can we do to make things better? How can we get accessibility elevated from just another nice-to-have product feature to an essential component?

I think it’s time for us to get serious about a Concerted, Multidisciplinary, Organized and Systematic Approach to accessibility advocacy! Let’s form a serious team of paid accessibility advocates who help companies, government agencies and organizations improve their accessibility and assist other advocates in their outreach efforts.

That’s right. The article I wrote over seven years ago about the need for effective approaches to accessibility advocacy still rings true today. What do all of you think? What steps are we willing to take today to work effectively toward a brighter, much more accessible future?

Categories: accessibility, advocacy

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