Accessible Technology: 5 Considerations for Digital Product Design

October 24, 2022

Have you ever used a screen reader or closed captioning before? These accessibility features are a key part of accessible technology, which is built with the disability community in mind.

The tech industry has made progress, for example, by developing automatic features for applications, websites, and social media platforms like maps for the disability community, screen-reading technology that describes content on a device and tools that describe detailed descriptions of images. Regardless, there’s still a long way to go. Let’s learn why accessible technology matters and how you can bake accessibility into your digital products and design systems for the benefit of all people.

Why does accessible technology matter?

People with disabilities, including visual, auditory, cognitive impairments, make up 15% of the global population. That’s a huge audience that relies on accessible technology to help them carry out essential daily tasks from checking email to making appointments.

Accessibility (or a11y, in shorthand) is an important means of fostering equality in our modern, high-tech world. Everyone benefits from accessible technology—not only people with disabilities, but their caretakers, employers, and social networks.

Today, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) create a strong foundation for developing accessible tech. For example, accessible websites must be coded for compatibility with assistive technologies that can read content aloud, generate video subtitles, and enable keyboard commands.

With intention and advance planning, developers and product owners can do our part to foster innovation and make accessibility the standard, too. 

Consider these 5 factors of accessible technology

To build accessible technology, start planning as early in the process as possible. The more you consider accessible ways of delivering the value of your product, the easier it will be to design and code for accessibility and to maintain it as the product evolves. Here’s how.

Bake best practices into your workflow

An accessible web presence requires a little work on the front end. These coding practices are essential for generating muscle memory for supporting accessible experiences. To do this effectively, tailor your workflow to ensure best practices for the digital product you are asking your developers to deliver. Best practices can include aria labeling, keyboard navigation and focus trapping, element roles, alt-text tags, and adequate color contrast ratios. It’s important to ensure your workflow promotes those practices and catches non-compliant code in the process. 

Meta, for example, has launched automatic alt text, which uses artificial intelligence to create descriptions of photos for people with visual impairments, to Facebook and Instagram

Update and improve existing products

The disability community often receives accessibility features long after technology is originally released. For that reason, it’s important to evaluate opportunities for improving existing products even if a11y wasn't a part of the initial design. 

Microsoft has made strides in this area. The company has designed an adaptive Xbox controller, which can be attached to existing controllers, as well as an Xbox controller with Braille, that makes gaming more accessible.

Companies that don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title III, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, can be the target of lawsuits. From this lens, updating your products for accessibility is a risk-reduction investment that can lead to cost savings in the long run.

Make accessibility the default for new products

When you consider accessibility from the start, you’ll build a loyal audience with the disability community and its supporters. 

Samsung is a great model of a company making accessibility features the default, and adjustable with just one touch. For example, Samsung TVs come out-of-the-box with voice guidance enabled for the visually impaired—a great way to prioritize the disability community. 

Be sure to include updates to these features in all regular software updates.

Talk to your audience

Large companies often have a team of a11y engineers to implement best practices and test software for compliance. It’s even better when these teams involve people with disabilities themselves. 

Those with everyday accessibility concerns naturally have a different way of thinking about your product. Research and survey the disability community, as radio show This American Life did when adding accessible transcripts, or bring them on board your team—their advice will likely give you a leg up against your competition.

Get support from the experts

You can tackle accessibility head-on by hiring a Chief Accessibility Officer or consulting accessibility agencies early in the development process.

That includes us! We’re here to help you build a sound accessibility strategy for your tech delivery process from the start—contact us to get the ball rolling.