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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Accessibility - moving beyond simple compliance

What do you know about Accessibility Testing & indeed the needs around Accessibility?

It's an area that not many people focus on, but I think it's very interesting and rife for innovation.  In particular, I feel inspired in this area because of why it exists.

Have you ever known what it is like to be 'Internet Poor'?  To experience, in todays world, what it is like to not have easy access to the internet?  So much information, games, pay your bills, look at your bank statements, contact friends.  Well, it is a very interesting experience.

Ah, but you say this is simple - broadband is getting to more people than ever before.  Local libraries and schools offer access to anyone that needs it.  It has never been easier to get online with a smartphone in nearly every pocket.  Ok, so try this.........

  • Take out your trusty smartphone 
  • Unlock it and go to the dial screen
  • Select the number pad option
  • Visualise your own home phone number
  • Close your eyes
  • Dial it using your smartphone
  • Open your eyes and check the result.
How many digits did you get correctly entered on the phone?  In the right order?
You've just experienced a very small sample of what it is like to be visually impaired and using a smartphone.  Imagine what its like to use the internet.  

If you'd like to experience more, then set up the screen reader on an iphone and then try using an app or going to a web page.  It will drive you nuts!  

So, here's my first point: Accessibility needs are there to be met.  There's a barrier for some of the population -and a significant part of it too, that are suffering in Internet Poverty and we can help them.  On a moral basis alone there is no excuse for not doing so.

Anyone out there reading this with half an ear to the ground in the UK and USA will know that there is legislation out there to support the campaign for accessibility.  This legislation, along with standards from W3C, help define what makes things accessible.  Happy days!  This must solve the problem, right?  Well, not so much  - not so far anyway.  Firstly, it's a bit vague in places and doesn't really capture all you need, but let's look past this.  The big kicker is - no motivation to comply!!  By Law, every company in the UK with a website should make it accessible - but if they don't who makes them pay?  Who has the power to push this agenda?  Pretty much noone, but some smart people are starting to get into this and some test cases in the UK and USA are already going ahead.  Some have already finished and companies like are having to pay out.

So, here's my second point: There's a well intentioned set of legislation and standards to help us sort this out.  We should be using it!  We should also be helping our companies to demonstrate their compliance.  It should be a standard project mandate.

Let's think this through a little bit more.  E-commerce is going through the roof.  Smartphones are selling like hot cakes everywhere.  Accessibility needs are experienced by a significant part of the population - visual, cognitive or physical.  There is therefore a significant market, and significant spending power that is not being given the opportunity to buy products and services in a contemporary manner.  Are we commercially insane?  We're avoiding a legitimate set of customers -> and if you believe the BCS we are missing out on many many £Bns as a result.

So, here's my third point: We're all competing in a crowded, fast moving, globalised world.  You should never walk past a potential customer and ignore them.

I believe that great things are meant to be done in the field of accessibility and I believe we all have an opportunity and a responsibility to get involved.  I believe this so much that I've asked our teams who deliver the Zappers events to focus on it over the next few months and I've asked the team responsible for our showcase Star Testing event in September to set about bringing great minds together in this field and helping people find their way.   I hope that in these small ways we can contribute to building an ecosystem that shows Accessibility needs the proper respect and gets them incorporated as a standard project mandate on any new app or site.

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