It’s nice to see that accessibility has been garnering more headlines over the past couple of months. With more technology leaders finally grabbing hold of the reins to advance the awareness and importance of accessibility, the industry feels less like Sisyphus and instead is creating an avalanche of innovation in cognitive computing and artificial intelligence to enable more opportunities for the aging population and people with disabilities.
As we recognize Global Accessibility Awareness Day, it’s important we all seize upon this momentum and continue to educate and demonstrate to the market how accessibility will redefine the relationship among all humans, technology and the environment around us.
Accessibility is no longer about a niche audience. New innovations will affect everyone’s use of a product or service and help deliver information in the most consumable way possible, taking into consideration physical, cognitive and situational challenges. For instance, by leveraging cognitive computing we can better understand the information being generated and deliver it in a way that can help everyone make better decisions about personal finances, navigating a city, visits to the doctor or when to take medications, or dietary recommendations.
Our always on, mobile landscape has created more opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to communicate, collaborate and participate in daily activities. Conversely, diversity and inclusiveness in the 21st century creates even greater hurdles as accessibility needs to constantly keep up with new technologies – mobile, social, wearables and cognitive systems – that should be solved early in design and DevOps, and not be bolted on later sloppily with code equivalent to duct tape.
It has become clear that in 2016 accessibility is no longer a minor player, but a holistic strategic endeavor comprising every part of the enterprise. Accessibility is being injected into internal and external projects helping IT and lines of business (LOB) reenergize their services and applications by delivering more usability, improve the overall experience, and increase interactions across channels.
Therefore, accessibility initiatives need to be genuine and supported from the C-Level and not marked as side projects, or something that needs to get done satisfactorily to solve a short-term issue.
I’ve found that it’s those organizations that are creating “Accessibility Centers of Excellence” that are more transparent and accountable for projects, have established strong governance, and aligned vision and roadmaps with priorities and timelines. These Centers are often comprised of different business functions (Marketing, DevOps, HR, Legal, Procurement, CIO and R&D), and encompass a community of users (including people with disabilities) who can provide important feedback, user testing, and share best practices of applying accessibility.
For example, with less time to create mobile apps, accessibility has to be considered and built in from the beginning. That can be a challenge, since developers and customers want to move quickly on mobile, but by vetting these apps with this larger team, it can be worth it – time, resources, and legal issues – to make accessibility, usability, and scalability early considerations, even in an agile development environment.
Breaking down these organizational silos will provide more accessibility insights to take proactive action, including having access to accessibility checklists, awareness of regulations and industry standards, and the availability of tools and technologies used to identify and correct issues during the DevOps process.
By thinking more strategically about how different users might interact with a solution, we can create technology that is more human, empathetic and supplemental to our daily lives.