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Accessible First- towards building an inclusive digital world

Persons with disabilities need more than one type of assistive technology solution to enhance their independent living and socio-economic participation. Accessible applications and devices can level the playing field for persons with disabilities across life domains including education, employment, e-governance, and civic participation, financial inclusion, and disaster management.

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According to WHO, more than 15% of the world population lives with some form of disability, of whom nearly 190 million people experience considerable difficulties in functioning. The exclusion and marginalization of persons with disabilities is a human rights issue as well as an economic issue for countries. The new age digital world needs to break all traditional barriers to communication, interaction, and enable access to information for persons with disabilities. The convergence of increasing public and private service provision through technology and the rise of conventional digital touchpoints is changing the paradigm of accessibility.

As the famous quote from the IBM Training Manual goes, “Technology makes things easier for most people, but for people with disabilities, technology makes things possible”. Everything you do in enhancing accessibility has the potential to affect the lives of many. Apart from being a big market opportunity with a growing market demand, compliance to accessibility regulations has become a mandate in several developed countries.

Persons with disabilities need more than one type of assistive technology solution to enhance their independent living and socio-economic participation. Accessible applications and devices can level the playing field for persons with disabilities across life domains including education, employment, e-governance, and civic participation, financial inclusion, and disaster management.

For instance, let’s take disaster management – access to instant, current, reliable, and relevant information and communication before, during, and after a disaster situation not only saves lives and reduces injuries and damage to property, but also provides easy access to disaster relief services.

More than anything, building accessibility into your product can result in a solution that works better for everyone. For example, if your user interface has a good contrast between the text and the background it not only helps users with vision loss but also helps others who may face legibility issues in bright sunlight. The alerts that are generated by your mailbox for calendar reminders use visual alerts and vibration apart from sound, thus helping users who have a hearing impairment and those working in a noisy environment. Text messaging was originally designed for people with hearing disability and as we all know it’s something we cannot live without now.

The big question is how to ensure that websites and mobile apps and other digital content are perceivable and applicable to everyone regardless of their abilities.

Here are some specific questions that you can ask

  • Can people navigate through your website without the use of a mouse?

  • Will they be able to understand what is happening in embedded videos in your site or app even if they cannot hear?

  • Will they be able to navigate your site or app with a screen reader, which reads out elements on the screen?

Product owners have to keep in mind a variety of accessibility needs. Apps need to assist individuals by providing instant captions for audio content including phone/video calls, voice amplification and converting audio alerts into text. While there are independent apps to scan barcodes and identify products, read aloud menus through optical character recognition and object recognition including currency, there is an imminent need to factor some of these accessible features in all normal application development.

All we need is to change our mindset.

We need to start designing for accessibility first. It is evident that we need to develop solutions that are not only inclusive but are more intuitive than what we design for fully-abled people. This is exciting as it means that the energy it takes to be inclusive can be leveraged and harnessed as a force for creativity and innovation. This helps us move away from the deficiency mindset of tolerance, to becoming a social innovator, the type of maverick that this world desperately needs to solve some of its greatest problems.

Authored By R. Arun Srinivasan, Head – Digital Experience CoE, HTC Global Services


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