12 Apr 2024 Frank Spillers


Why design for Accessibility up-front?

Why design for Accessibility up-front?

Summary: Dealing with accessibility at the coding stage is a missed opportunity to understand the ‘problem space’ for users with disabilities. By understanding user needs, challenges, and preferences, we can avoid a lot of reactive accessibility fixing. We must stop treating accessibility as a “build and then make accessible” problem. Instead, early-on research and Interaction Design can solve many downstream issues while making teams accessibility-savvy– a key ROI of accessibility goal.

Why designing for Accessibility should come first

Accessibility Often Comes Last: Considered by our industry as a technical issue missess Inclusive Design goals: equity ought to lead, not checking a compliance box. The current approach: access is addressed after the design and coding phases, which is too late. This approach fails to address the “right problem” early on, confining accessibility to a technical afterthought rather than an integral aspect of inclusive design.

The Need for Paradigm Shift: Starting with accessibility in mind not only streamlines development but ensures products are helpful to a broader audience from day one. Better yet, “design for one, extend to many” (Microsoft’s slogan) can lead to innovation.

See What is Inclusion Innovation?

Problems with ‘One Size Fits All’: A generic approach to design overlooks the specific needs of users with disabilities. This can lead to products that don’t resonate with or adequately serve all five disability access needs.

Shifting the Mindset: Moving beyond just meeting compliance standards is crucial. Accessibility should involve users with disabilities from the start of the design process. Despite its importance, Ethnographic interviews with users with disabilities is infrequent.

Go deeper: Join next week’s Designing for Accessibility First Masterclass

Why Design for Accessibility First

By identifying and addressing barriers early, designers and developers can avoid costly, time-consuming revisions later. By understanding the specific needs of users with disabilities, you can incorporate these insights directly into the design phase. This approach reduces development time and ensures the final product is inherently inclusive, offering an equitable user experience from the start.

AI is a new area access area that will require ‘problem space’ understanding. One topic in our current User Research Intensive we are exploring is: How are neurodiverse users being helped or blocked by generative AI tools? Studying this now will also help define the next generation of AI-augmented accessibility tools.  AI is not a magic wand; we need to define equitable access now rather than try and repair it twenty years later, like we did with websites.

Bottom line

Your role in a more accessible future: Everyone has a part to play in making the world more accessible. Whether you’re a designer, developer, or someone who influences product strategies, your commitment to accessible design can drive change.

Get better ROI from accessibility efforts: Prioritizing accessibility from the start allows designers and developers to create more effective and inclusive products. This not only saves time fixing and repairing ‘broken accessibility’ but helps your team anticipate access problems before any code is written. That business motivation alone is priceless.

Join or get a recording of next week’s Designing for Accessibility First Masterclass

About the Author

headshot of frank spillers

Frank Spillers

Founder - UX Inner Circle

Frank Spillers, MS, founded the UX Inner Circle to share his knowledge and skills with his students from the Interaction Design Foundation where he has provided select trainings for the past 8 years. He leads UX and Service Design consulting at Experience Dynamics, an award-winning consultancy. He works with the world’s leading brands to deliver cutting-edge strategy for products, services, and experiences. Starting out in the mid-’90s in social VR, Frank has consulted on 600 UX projects including enterprise web applications, nonprofits, government and more. He’s an Inclusive Design evangelist, and expert in Accessibility, Emotion Design, VR/AR, Cross-cultural Design and UX Management. Frank brings 25 years of experience as a Sr. UX Director and Service Design leader. He has lifted conversion rates by 88% and enhanced revenue by 300% for firms like Nike, Intel, Microsoft, the City of New York, Global Disability Rights Now!, Four Seasons, Capital One, the World Bank, Women Enabled International, and many more.

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