Why think about accessibility?
Did you know that the CDC estimates that 26% of people in the United States are living with a disability? That's a lot of people—61 million, in fact. Those 61 million people want to be able to thrive in the world as much as anyone, but all too often, the world is designed to exclude them.
Accessibility is good for business: think about how much spending power those 61 million people possess, and how self-defeating it is to exclude them from your product or service.
And, quite simply, accessibility is the right thing to do.
Accessibility is a design problem.
Disability comes in many forms, each of which has particular needs. Someone who is blind has very different needs from someone in a wheelchair—and even from someone with low vision or color blindness.
What all disabilities have in common is that they need not limit a person's ability to live an independent life—but too often, that is what happens. And quite commonly, the limitations faced by people with disabilities are imposed by poor or thoughtless design.
Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
Who benefits from accessibility?
Most importantly, people with disabilities benefit. When services and products are inclusive, everyone can participate equally well. When environments are designed with consideration for diverse needs and abilities, disabled people are relieved of the burden to compensate for the poor designs around them.
But the benefits of accessibility go beyond disabled people. Think of some of the most ubiquitous technological innovations of recent years: the iPhone's touchscreen, turn-by-turn directions, voice user interfaces like Siri and Alexa. These began as accessible solutions to non-inclusive problems, and they have made products more valuable and enjoyable for a huge number of people.
And finally, companies benefit, too, when accessibility is prioritized. Where would Apple be without the touchscreen that made the iPhone possible? And don't forget, there are millions of people in the U.S. alone who have a disability—and disposable income to use on accessible products.
There are also costs to being inaccessible. Companies are regularly sued for inaccessible services. Suits over web accessibility have been growing rapidly in recent years, even as the web is getting less accessible. Companies find themselves overwhelmed by growth and neglect accessibility—but it costs them even more in the end than it would have if they had invested in accessibility to begin with. But if you build accessibility into your development and growth early on, you can ensure that you will remain inclusive for a long time.