Tech for people with disabilities

This month’s ExploreTech meetup centred on accessibility in software design and development.

The first of two speakers approached the issue as a need for cultural shift. Software that doesn’t meet basic usability guidelines like those listed in the Access to Ontarians with Disabilities Act is inherently broken in design, testing, and implementation. Just as we’ve come to accept that security needs to be built in to system requirements, the web and mobile development communities should learn about accessibility needs and treat meeting them as a basic requirement for functioning, usable software.

Designing accessibility can produce better usability for everyone.  This is true whether we’re speaking of physical design like curb cuts or UX design like captioning and transcripts. It can also raise concerns from people who don’t consider accessibility when the market for goods and services expands beyond those who expend considerable resources by simply living in a world that is designed with no consideration of their needs.

The second speaker started testing accessibility-related technology at the age of five as a participant in the CHAMP program sponsored by War Amps, and is now a software developer. This speaker used a lens designed to speak more to capitalism than social justice.

There are many estimates available on the size of the accessibility market. According to the group Return on Disability, the potential global market has over a trillion dollars in annual disposable income. Apple is well aware of the market for accessible design, having created the phone preferred by people are blind or have low vision.

An area that was noted by both speakers in the Q&A part of the evening as in need of better tools and standards is mobile software design. IBM has come to market with tools and guidance, but they’re able and willing to charge whatever the market will bear because there is no meaningful competition in the space. The Web Content Accessibility guidelines are written to be transferrable, including to other types of documents and applications.

Assuming capitalism will be with us for the foreseeable future, it seems to me a focus on an untapped market with opportunities for incidental share outside that core has strong hope of success. The business consequences of ignoring accessibility are insignificant compared to those of failing to create and maintain good IT security hygiene.

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