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Thank you! By picking up this book, you’re proving that you care about an important topic: accessibility, which is often shortened to a11y. Whether you’re looking to deepen your existing accessibility knowledge, or are beginning your learning journey, this book will support your goals.
In this first chapter, you’ll discover what accessibility is and answer the question: Why should I care about accessibility? Once you reach the end of this chapter, you’ll have a number of answers to that question, and you’ll be able to have effective conversations with your peers about why developers should prioritize accessibility in their designs.
Caring about accessibility
Imagine: You’re stuck at home and need something to eat. You can’t leave because you broke your hand, your car is in the shop, and you have a sweet, new puppy that will destroy everything if you turn your back for too long.
And now you’re hungry. You’ve got an insatiable craving for a burrito, and you decide to try a burrito-ordering app a friend recommended. As your hunger grows, so does your frustration. You can’t place an order because your broken hand is making it difficult to use your phone. Additionally, you don’t know which buttons do what.
Something is missing from the form, but the app doesn’t say what. You desperately need some guacamole on this burrito, and you can see the “add guacamole” option but can’t select it.
How would you feel? A little hangry? Is it your right to order that burrito? What’s your perception of this food delivery app?
Keep those thoughts in mind as you keep reading.
An accessible app means that most people can use it without help from another person, regardless of ability or situation. When there’s a mismatch between the app and the users’ abilities, an app is considered inaccessible.
Inaccessible apps put barriers between a user and the task they are trying to do.
You can see ways physical objects are accessible, be it ramps in front of buildings or braille on the elevator buttons. But what does accessible mean for digital objects, specifically, your apps? And why should you care?
This chapter focuses on that second question, and the rest of the book is dedicated to the first.
There are many reasons to care, including those below—in no particular order. By developing an accessible app you:
- Open your app to a wider audience.
- Minimize risk of legal battles.
- Make a better product.
- Drive innovation.
- Increase developer productivity.
- Recognize revenue potential.
- Treat others with care.
Widening your audience
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “1 in 4 of adults in the United States have a disability” (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0816-disability.html).
Don’t make assumptions
As a developer, it’s a force of habit to assume what people will and won’t do with your app. Maybe you think: “I’m building a fitness app. People with motor disabilities aren’t using my app” or “I have a parking app. Why would anybody with vision impairment think to use it?”
Avoiding legal battles
Did the words “legal battles” get your attention? That’s right, it’s the law that your app be accessible. It’s a civil right. People with disabilities must have access to public accommodations and commercial facilities.
Making a better product
Have you ever used voice control to perform a task on your phone while you were responsibly driving with both hands on the wheel? Is your phone on vibrate so you can feel when you get a message rather than hear it? Perhaps you use captions when watching a video in a noisy location.
Designing with accessibility in mind encourages you to make a better product and can drive innovation. Scholars have studied and discovered that by placing limits on a project, you foster greater creativity. After all, an app that does EVERYTHING is a poorly designed product.
Increasing developer productivity
Surprised? How can something that will require a lot of your time actually increase your productivity?
Recognizing revenue potential
Neglecting accessibility in your apps could mean that you lose revenue.
Treating others with care
Even if all that wasn’t enough reason to care, there’s one more: People with disabilities deserve to have access to the same services everyone does. This includes your app. Plainly said: Supporting an accessible app is the right thing to do.
Experiencing your app
The first thing you need to recognize is that temporary, partial and permanent disabilities all change the way people experience your app.
There is a wide range in the ways people might experience visual limitations, from being near-sighted or having color blindness, to being legally blind. Other visual impairments include:
Motor impairments affect the way people move. Some of the types of motor disabilities that impact the way someone uses an app include:
While there are multiple classifications of hearing loss, the most important thing for you to consider is that some people won’t be able to hear your app. This could be due to damage to the parts of the ear, nerve damage, a total loss of hearing, loss of hearing of high or low tones or a loss of hearing in one ear.
Neurodiversity, for the sake of this discussion, comprises the natural differences people have when it comes to neurological structure and function. Brains are remarkably complex, so we experience and interact with the world in wildly different ways.
- To create an accessible app, you must design it so that most people can use it without assistance.
- Accessible apps widen your audience to the 1 in 4 adults who have some type of disability.
- You can face legal battles if your app is inaccessible.
- Developing an accessible app makes your product better and increases developer productivity.
- The constraints of accessibility guidelines will drive innovation.
- You can lose potential revenue if you neglect accessible design.
- Having access to apps is a civil right, and caring about accessibility is the right thing to do.
- Visual, motor, auditory and cognitive impairments change the way people experience your app.
Where to go from here?
You now know why you should care about accessibility and understand the different impairments that impact the way someone may use your app. And now that you know, you’re prepared to start learning the skills and applying this knowledge!