Traditionally focused on providing equal access to people with disabilities, accessibility has become a mainstream requirement that reduces technology barriers to the information everyone needs for school, work, and life.Today, accessible technology allows humans and machines to interact effectively and intuitively. And it helps organizations create a better user experience on any device by differentiating offerings and optimizing communications for employees, students, customers and constituents.
It’s really a technology with a profound purpose.
This is why it has become a critical focus for organizations around the world. Accessibility initiatives are being driven by the more than 1 billion people with disabilities (including the growing aging population), the proliferation of mobile devices, and new industry standards and evolving government regulations.
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) this year, it’s important to reflect how far we’ve come in providing equal access to information that makes our daily routines more manageable.
While we still have work to do addressing accessibility requirements from a compliance perspective on web and mobile applications, accessibility has presented us with a tremendous opportunity.
It is redefining the relationship among humans, technology and the environment around us. Combined with analytics, cloud, security and the Internet of Things, accessibility is helping create context-driven systems that help organizations understand everyone’s information consumption patterns in order to deliver a secure and personalized user experience on any device.
Consider your grandmother navigating a new city. Her mobile device and applications can now be tailored to her specific needs and physical abilities to help her better understand the surroundings and provide appropriate routes and points of interest. By using text-to-speech, voice recognition and location-based services, information and insights can be delivered in the most consumable way possible.
Or, imagine your friend who is vision-impaired making an online purchase. By incorporating accessible technology, such as ensuring screen readers can easily navigate a website or properly adjusting color contrast, retailers can eliminate usability issues and make it easier for your friend to learn about new offers or services specific to their needs.
Allowing more clients and employees to interact with applications whenever they want, wherever they are, and regardless of their age or physical ability, is forcing organizations to create a holistic strategy for embedding accessible solutions across the enterprise.
There are five areas organizations should focus on to be fully engaged on accessibility to help reinvigorate sales channels, increase workplace productivity and improve risk management:
Ensure that any accessibility initiative is genuine, supported from the C-Suite and includes every part of the organization.
Develop empathy and a true understanding of all users, including how physical, cognitive and situational disabilities affect the use of an application.
Place accessibility at the forefront of the design and development process to accelerate deployment and reduce expenses.
Perform rapid iterative testing for web and mobile applications and content to ensure accessibility conformance.
Lead by making accessibility, diversity and inclusion part of your organization’s culture.
Accessibility that is grounded in an organization’s values will bridge individual differences, better connect with customers, enable a diverse pool of talent in the workplace, and improve the standard of living for all members of society.
Accessibility is no longer about a niche audience. It’s about helping all of us become more independent, productive, and improve our quality of life.
While we have witnessed many milestones during the first 25 years of the ADA, let’s together make the next 25 years have even more meaning and impact … for everyone.
IBM has been committed to equal opportunity, workforce diversity, and technology innovation for people with disabilities for more than 100 years to create a more inclusive world where people of all ages and abilities can achieve their full potential. For more information, visit http://www.ibm.com/able
Frances West is Chief Accessibility Officer for IBM.