By Karen Chou, Product Designer at Scoop
When you hear the words "diversity, equity, and inclusion" mentioned at your company, which communities come to mind? Perhaps gender equity, ensuring a racially and ethnically diverse workforce, or creating inclusive environments for folks in the LGBTQIA+ community.
While these efforts are critical and needed, there's another group that's frequently left out of the DEI conversation entirely: the disability community.
In this post, I'll outline why it's essential to keep the disability community in mind when creating tools, services, and products meant to be used by a wide variety of people and how more thoughtful design can lead to more inclusion and equity.
How do you define "accessibility"?
Depending on the context, there are lots of different ways to define "accessibility." I liked the broadness of the definition that popped up in one of my first Google searches about the topic: "the qualities that make an experience open to all."
That's pithy and serviceable, but to get more specific about how the tech industry usually defines accessibility, I pulled this from Wikipedia: "the design of products, devices, services, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities."
As designing with accessibility in mind is now becoming more widespread, it's also common to see the phrase "a11y" on social media platforms like LinkedIn, in job postings, or used in the accessibility and disability communities themselves.
As part of my interest and work on accessibility at Scoop, I took it upon myself to define what accessibility does and could mean for our company and our users—how we build and design experiences for everyone. Along with generous help and input from our User Experience (UX) Team, we landed on the following definition of accessibility at Scoop: the design of products, services, or environments so as to open opportunities to people across different backgrounds, including physical and emotional/mental impairments and disabilities, economic background, levels of knowledge, and culture (culture can refer to language, race, and ethnicity, or more).
Yes, the definition may seem like a mouthful, but by defining accessibility broadly through both a general and tech industry lens, we make sure we're inclusive of folks, including and beyond people with disabilities.
Why is accessibility important?
Personally, being an accessibility advocate is important to me because it just makes sense as part of my responsibilities as a Product Designer.
Being a Product Designer and practicing human-centered design means ensuring I build inclusive products and experiences for all people. On a moral note, I also want to make sure I'm using my privilege as an able-bodied person working in the tech industry to advocate for others who are underrepresented.
Aside from wanting to be good, inclusive human beings, there are four additional reasons why accessibility work is important.
1. Accessibility benefits everyone
If people and companies make decisions with accessibility in mind, chances are they're helping out more people than just those with disabilities. It's also important to remember that not all disabilities are physical or visible to others.
Additionally, people who may experience a temporary or situational impairment could benefit from the accommodations made for people with permanent disabilities. Take, for example, some of the temporary and situational impairments shown in the graphic below, taken from Microsoft's Inclusive Design Toolkit. Considering design accommodations for a person who is Deaf can also benefit a person with a situational impairment, such as a bartender in a noisy setting.
2. Provide equal access and opportunity
Considering accessibility means considering equal access and opportunity. From Microsoft's Inclusive Design Toolkit, they wrote, "If we use our own abilities as a baseline, we make things that are easy for some people to use, but difficult for everyone else." "Our own abilities" can refer to a specific gender, age, language literacy, tech literacy, and physical ability. But it can also mean money, time, or a social network.
If we're considering and designing with accessibility in mind in our products, workplaces, and more, we ensure access and opportunities to more people by default.
3. It's good for business
When you're considering not just people with disabilities but also people with temporary or situational impairments in the United States, you’re building for more than 20 million people! Making things accessible means more people are included and can use your products or join your company, and therefore better for your business’s bottom line.
Accessibility is also good for business because company culture goes hand-in-hand with diversity. Companies see improved problem-solving skills, more innovation, higher employee retention, and more benefits when they have a diverse workforce—and a diverse workforce includes people with disabilities.
4. Spoiler: It's the law
Various laws ensure companies and organizations are accessible, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. Rehabilitation Act amendments, and the Telecommunications Act. More specifically, in the tech industry, you may often hear about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). And if a company or product isn't accessible, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they could be sued… and it doesn't look good to employees, prospective customers, or anyone, really.
What Scoop has accomplished with accessibility
In terms of accessibility in our Product development efforts, here are some of our past efforts as well as an outline of our ongoing commitment to accessibility:
- Screen reader audits of our mobile apps - We completed an initial audit of our mobile app's main features using one of the most popular screen readers, Apple's VoiceOver, to ensure those with disabilities could understand every element and its hierarchy on each screen. Any potential bugs were well-documented in a spreadsheet.
- Hired an accessibility expert - We recruited and worked with an independent accessibility consultant, Brian McNeilly, who provided his expert guidance to help us deep-dive into our audits for both our iOS and Android apps. He also advised us on establishing other accessibility best practices throughout our products and company and provided guidance on creating an accessibility roadmap.
- Fixing bugs - Our Product and Engineering Teams have and are continuing to prioritize, fix, and track accessibility-related bugs found from our audits as well as from incoming product feedback. All of our bugs are organized and tracked in Jira, a project management tool, and we make sure to chip away at least a few every quarter.
- Design documentation and processes - I wrote and disseminated documentation for our UX Product Design team, including a checklist and plan that incorporates accessibility explicitly into our design processes.
- Component library and design system improvements - Our UX Product Design and Engineering Teams collaborate to include accessibility into our component library and design system. As we build out each new component, we ensure that we're meeting color contrast standards, checking dynamic type compatibility, and defining screen reader requirements as needed.
- Works in progress - We're currently researching and implementing web accessibility standards for Scoop's new web products. In addition, an internal and external accessibility policy is also being defined to help continue guiding our accessibility efforts and vision.
How you can get involved in accessibility efforts at your company
I get it; it can be tough to figure out how to chip away at this seemingly enormous issue that's so prevalent. Here's my advice to you all on how to get started:
- Practice empathy. I encourage you to make time and space to think about who and who isn't included in every decision you make but even better would be hiring people with disabilities. People with disabilities are often overlooked or misjudged in hiring processes, but no one would be a better subject matter expert. Pay people for their knowledge, experiences, and emotional labor.
- Find opportunities to tie accessibility into your area of expertise. Whether you work in HR, Product, or Marketing, there are opportunities everywhere to improve accessibility. Some examples are ensuring your entire hiring process from online applications to in-person interviews are accessible or producing accessible marketing materials with accessible colors, fonts, and media.
- Be an everyday advocate. Above all else, the easiest work you can do is work on being an ally every day. Be aware of the language you use when you speak or write, find local or online disability communities you can learn from, follow disabled activists on social media. Two of my favorite outspoken disability advocates are Imani Barbarin (@crutchesandspice on Twitter and Instagram) and Sheri Byrne-Haber, who churns out hot takes on Medium and LinkedIn posts like nobody's business.
To sum it all up:
- At Scoop, our broad definition of accessibility holds us accountable for who we are, including and excluding, intentionally or not.
- Accessibility efforts can help many people, not just people with disabilities.
- Scoop has come a long way in our cross-functional accessibility efforts, but we're always keeping an eye out on how we can continue improving accessibility across all teams and products.
- Keep thinking about how you can contribute to accessibility efforts at your workplace and in your personal lives.