Here’s the real challenge – getting everyone to understand that accessibility is for everybody. Too often people with disabilities are considered to be the ‘others’. This is the biggest problem with getting people to embrace the idea of accessibility and for product designers to embrace the philosophy of Universal Design. In Silicon Valley we’ve always spoken of good design but, to convey this idea more effectively I have needed to dumb down the language to say, “get the specs right on human beings.”
Given the global aging population it seems completely unbelievable that building in Accessibility is too challenging for the world’s leading tech companies. Given the fact that after 25 years since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, The US still has a 75% unemployment rate for people with disabilities. I have little patience for scofflaw companies with customers numbering in the millions and reaping billions in profits who have proven unwilling to spend anything on improving accessibility. The unprecedented human rights achievement represented by the Americans With Disabilities Act has been thwarted by the negative cultural bias and neglect tech companies reveal by the fact that at the time of this justice department action less than 9% of all websites are accessible.
This appalling situation reminds me of when no one in the US would broadcast Spanish-language television. Ultimately such exclusionary practices proved to be thoroughly stupid and the lost profits will never be recovered. Same deal here. Why alienate customers and make products and services difficult to use? America’s inventors have given us the telephone, automobiles, electric starters, elevators, transistors, text to speech synthesizers, the internet and many other wonders of the everyday world that began as ways to improve accessibility and overcome limitations imposed by impairments. How many other innovations will come from the US as inventors begin providing accessibility to people who need a better way to solve a problem faced by millions around the world? Too many design decisions result in poorly considered interfaces that necessitates people have good manual dexterity and 20/20 vision. Not a day goes by when I don’t wish I had a large rock to smash my smart phone to pieces. I am often driven completely mad by it’s idiosyncratic behaviors. For the record, no one wants to read manuals in order to use some arcane piece of technology. And yet, that’s what we’ve got!
As a closing note, I would like to share the positive news that America is back! We’ve led the world as social innovators by embracing inclusion for every member of our society. This investment has paid off for us handsomely with the marketplace reaping the rewards of diversity by better serving their global customers. I believe that our best days are yet ahead because of the US’ socially inclusive policies and progressive idealism that America has introduced to the world.
On my part and on behalf of my company and my country I hope we will continue to do so.