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Usablenet Blog

    Assistive Technology. Why Bother? [Blog]

    by Leah Ryz
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    By Leah Ryz, User Experience Research Lead

    What is assistive technology?

    Over 1 billion people in the world have some form of disability. This equates to 15% of the world’s population. And what’s more, from this number, between 110-190 million people find that this significantly impacts their ability to function. Walking to the shops, tying up shoelaces, booking trips or shopping online. These are simple activities that able-bodied people take for granted.

    Assistive technology is specifically designed to help such people. This technology can be low or high tech, but most importantly, its job is to increase the quality of life for the user - to make things easier. Being able to purchase a ticket for an up-coming holiday, for example, can be near impossible without the help of assistive technology. However, not nearly enough businesses consider this constant struggle that disabled users face when trying to engage with their product or service.

    But as a business why should you bother to ensure that your site is accessible? Here are three simple reasons:

    1. It makes commercial sense

    When advising our clients on improving upon the User Experience (UX) of their site or app, we explain that a small investment into user-centred research or insight will help to inform an improved design, which in turn is likely to offer a return on investment. Put simply, we believe that sending traffic to a site that isn’t usable or accessible is both a waste of time and money. An increase of positive online experiences will result in an increase of conversion.

    However, for someone who is say visually impaired, an inaccessible site is often the biggest issue. Being unable to navigate non-descriptive links such as ‘click here’ or ‘more info’ greatly impacts the experience for the user and is likely to end in abandonment in the journey. For those users who have low vision or are blind, ordering products online or even booking a holiday using your device can become impossible if the business in question hasn’t considered their needs when designing the experience. Now, considering 285 million people in the world have some form of visual impairment, it is fair to say that an assistive site which offers a good user experience for users will not just increase loyalty and trust for the business, but will impact the bottom line positively.

    2.The law is changing

    Almost 1 in 5 US citizens have a disability, but by November 2015, these individuals will find booking a trip online to be a far less stressful experience. This is because by then, all sites of this nature will need to confirm to WCAG 2.0, levels A and AA. Furthermore, by November 2016, all web pages will need to meet these same strict criteria.

    This is fantastic news for users with disabilities, but may come as a bit of a shock to the businesses in question. And the change in law doesn’t stop here as it also extends to kiosks. For example, any kiosk that is installed after November 2016, must meet basic accessibility requirements. Furthermore, airlines must ensure that at least 25% of their kiosks are accessible by November 2023.

    I’m not in the travel industry, does this impact me?

    Absolutely. You only need to listen to the news to know that there is an increase of cases where some online businesses are sued on the grounds of discrimination.

    A case worth noting is that of Gisele Mesange. Ms Mesange is visually impaired and whilst her disability doesn’t stop her from getting around, it makes shopping online with one particular retailer impossible, for she isn’t able to select delivery times. It can take her up to 8 hours to complete this simple task online.

    We don’t need to be reminded of the case of Target, who ended up settling at $6million to the National Federation of the Blind due to the inaccessibility of their site.

    Ensuring your site is accessible for all users won’t just help you increase conversion, it’ll help to keep your business out of water, and keep your brand favourable with all who engage with it.

    3. Think ethically

    There is this horrible myth that blind and disabled people don’t use the Internet. This is simply not true, and such a myth still needs dispelling. In addition everybody, regardless of disability, should have access to the same online content and experiences as those who are able-bodied. Too many times have we heard “Design for the majority and accommodate for the minority” Rather it should be “Design for everybody”.

    If designing for accessibility benefits your organisation commercially and keeps your brand popular, then it’s something that you as a business should start to think about immediately. But in addition, also consider the literal difference it will make to the quality of life for those individuals who struggle with fulfilling basic tasks online.

    Improving user experience and accessibility should be as much about making money, as it should be about creating beautiful experiences. Experiences that every single person in your variety of user groups deserve.

    View all of our products and services for web accessibility here.

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