Jasmine Henry

October 02, 2020

Several weeks ago, Esper launched the DroidDevCast, a weekly podcast where we explore all things Android, DevOps, open-source, and COSU. In our fourth installment, Esper Content Marketing Manager and podcast host Rin Oliver interviewed Soren Hamby, A11y Project Maintainer, and previous Design Advocate at InVision, about accessible design. Hamby and Rin discussed why accessibility matters and how to make sure your designs enable others.

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What is Accessible Design?

Accessible design is “universal,” says Soren Hamby. “A lot of people think of accessibility as being specifically for people that have physical disabilities and use assistive tech.” But, it’s a design that accommodates everyone’s needs.

“I’ve been trying to work on expanding my ideas of accessibility to include equal.” Accessible design users, according to Hamby, may have other access needs instead of a disability.

“Access…is the ability to access things through the internet,” says Hamby. 

For example, individuals with broadband or cellular service have access privileges compared to individuals without a data connection. And when you shift your definition of accessible toward universal design, it’s clear accessible design benefits everyone. 

Image by Alexander Stein from Pixabay 

Accessible design is inclusive toward people who speak English as a second language, says Hamby, and individuals who face other types of digital barriers.

“I’m trying to think of things in a decentralized way, when it comes to what [I] wish more tech companies got right about accessible UI and UX design,” Hamby says. They refer to the four tenets of web accessibility, which establish that designs should be:

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

“I think we could easily apply those tenants in a variety of flexible ways to cover other access concerns,” says Hamby. As school districts have shifted to distance learning, access to WiFi from student tablets has been a clear barrier for economically-disadvantaged homes. By Hamby’s definition, anything that blocks access to digital resources is part of accessibility. 

Don’t Forget the Basics of Accessible Apps and Experiences

Image by geralt from Pixabay 

Accessible design advocates wish more companies took the time to do the basics. “I saw an audit recently which said less than half of eCommerce sites have basic screen reader access or contrast best practices.” Basics also include adding effective alt text to images and captions to videos, per Hamby. They also urge Android devs and other makers to consider the context  – do your customers “know what you’re saying if they’re…situationally disabled due to a crowded place?” 

“Less than half of eCommerce sites have basic screen reader access or contrast best practices,” says Hamby. 

The billboard principle is also key, says Hamby, because “a lot of billboards are like really, really simple because they want people to get the concept immediately and make the connection.” Make sure your accessible designs can pass the billboard test for all users, especially in crowded or public spaces. 

If your customers struggle to find or access what they’re looking for quickly, they’ll go somewhere else. 

Avoid Making Customers Find Workarounds

So, what happens if your Android kiosk or your web app isn’t accessible? Or, what if there are barriers to any digital product for that matter? 

Researchers and Hamby show that customers won’t start a conversation about barriers. Instead, they’ll take their business to a competitor who’s more accommodating. Brands lose billions of dollars in revenue if they fail to create accessible user experiences – not to mention the ethical implications of excluding individuals with disabilities. That’s why Hamby believes accessibility should be part of the earliest stages of a design project. 

Start thinking about accessibility before a feature or app is released. 

Because, truth be told, it’s generally way more work to build in accessibility as an afterthought. 

How to Create a More Accessible Workplace

Image by DomenicBlair from Pixabay 

To understand accessibility, I like to “have people watch a couple shows with audio descriptions,” says Hamby. Pay attention to how the audio captions “describe the entire picture” especially before you go to write alt text. Accessible alt text isn’t about describing every blade of grass, clarifies Hamby. Instead, it’s about describing the mood and tension to provide context for an image.

Watching television shows with audio captions is “something that I feel…has really helped people gain a little bit more compassion and understanding,” says Hamby. “They take it for granted that not everybody can just sit down and watch TV without finding a show that accommodates them.”

“Not everybody can just sit down and watch TV without finding a show that accommodates them,” says Hamby. 

getstark.co is another tool which Hamby recommends. “It’s this accessibility tool that helps you look at things like contrast and color ratios. It has some more cool features coming out soon…that will automate some of the [accessible design] process.” 

Also, Hamby recommends creating shared responsibility for accessibility. “And if people on your team pick different parts of the new WCAG guidelines… you could pretty much have an entire team that covers accessibility,” highlights Hamby. With this approach “everybody kind of has their own zone,” which is a good way to create areas of specialty and individual responsibilities for accessibility. 

H4: In this Episode of The DroidDevCast:

00:55 – Why accessible design is universal design.
03:45 – The basic steps toward accessible design
06:35 – How one major digital brand is embracing accessibility after a misstep.
09:08 – Soren’s career journey to accessible design advocate.
23:30 – How to jumpstart your accessible career journey at work.

You can access the full transcript of this podcast on Simplecast. Stay tuned, because next week Rin will host a tech industry panel discussion for National Coming Out Day, October 11th.

Be sure to like, subscribe, and listen to The DroidDevCast wherever you get your podcasts. Here’s a link to last week’s episode:
The DroidDev Cast Episode 3: Rapid Prototyping with Daniel Magnum.