Accessibility is the ability to use a system or entity in a way that makes it accessible to as many people as possible. This is important because it allows people with disabilities to have equal access to the system or entity, and it also makes the system or entity usable by people without disabilities. Accessibility features in products and services often solve unanticipated problems.
The purpose of accessibility is to make things available to everyone, no matter what their abilities or disabilities may be. Sometimes, this means making things easier for people with disabilities, who may need help using them. Easy Access or Accessible products or services are designed to make this easier.
The fundamentals of Accessibility refer to how easily someone can access information and services by minimizing the barriers of distance and cost, as well as the usability of the interface. In some countries, this has led to laws, regulations, and initiatives that try to make sure everyone has access to the internet and phone services at a low cost.
Understanding the term from a broader perspective, two scenarios emerge in mind:
- People with special needs and requirements
- The hardware or piece of equipment, and technology to address such needs
Such variances are being treated by the development of suitable functionality hardware and corresponding awareness to integrate into the life of regular people through the means of Accessibility.
At present, WHO estimates over 16% (around 1.3 billion people) of the global population are experiencing some form of significant disability from the vast spectrum of human health conditions. As the global population progressively ages, drastic environmental changes, and the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases rises, the number of people needing assistive products is projected to increase beyond two billion by 2050.
Accessibility could be categorized into three mainstreams dimensions:
- Assistive technology: The application of organized knowledge and skills related to assistive products, including systems and services. Assistive technology is a subset of health technology.
- Assistive products: Any external product (including devices, equipment, instruments, or software), specially produced or generally available, the primary purpose of which is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, and thereby promote their well-being. Assistive products are also used to prevent impairments and secondary health conditions.
- Priority assistive products: Those products that are necessary to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and which need to be available at a price the community/state can afford.
In nutshell, organizations should pursue best practices in accessibility by working to make products with surveys inclusive and work to capture insights from people across the spectrum of disabilities. They should also look for opportunities to go deeper on specific topics and develop their products to conform to the legal and statutory frameworks.
Scope of Business in Accessibility
Many organizations are waking up to the fact that embracing accessibility leads to multiple benefits – reducing legal risks, strengthening brand presence, and improving customer experience and employee productivity. Businesses that integrate accessibility are more likely to be innovative, inclusive enterprises that reach more people with positive brand messaging that meets emerging global legal requirements.
Integrating accessibility removes architectural, digital, and social barriers that can get in the way of innovation, for example:
- Accessible design thinking provides varied and flexible ways for users to interact with websites and applications, options that are useful for people with and without disabilities.
- The design of user interaction considers experiences other than screens when accessibility is a consideration. The result is a human-centered, natural, and contextual interaction.
- Accessibility is closely related to general usability – both aim to define and deliver a more intuitive user experience.
- Innovations like the typewriter, telephone, punch cards, text-to-speech, email, and voice controls were initially meant to include those with a disability, and all have found a much broader application.
- Artificial retinas to help restore sight for participants who are blind may also help future robots with real-time image-processing systems, effectively enabling them to see.
- Driverless cars, so promising for the independence of blind people, are projected to also help solve traffic fatalities and congestion.
Accessible design is by its nature flexible, allowing content to faithfully render across a broad spectrum of devices, platforms, assistive technologies, and operating systems.
Quintessence of Agile Practices in Accessibility
Products designed specifically for disabled individuals often lack accessibility. A lack of awareness regarding accessibility and knowledge on how to implement it are contributing factors. In addition, incorporating Agile practices early in the developmental process can help prevent delays in implementing accessibility features, making life easier for organizations and clients.
Key takeaways regarding the relationship between Accessibility and Agile practices include:
- Form a core group of accessibility coaches to mentor agile teams in the proper execution of agile practices.
- Establish an ongoing empathy program to help motivate staff to consider disabled personas.
- Implement the four key principles of accessibility, known as P.O.U.R. -
Perceive, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
- Provide the teams with high-quality learning resources regularly and incorporate some into standard onboarding processes.
- Design an accessibility dashboard that will monitor progress and report back to teams and management alike.
- Every PO/PM should verify product accessibility by following a checklist during compliance checks.
- Observe accessibility standards such as WCAG, Section 508, and the like during the discovery phase for the final product to be universally usable irrespective of user.
- Create accessibility stories at the beginning of each sprint and assign adequate story points so that it is successful.
- Accessibility testing should not be treated as an impromptu activity, but as an integral part of every sprint, given the due time and importance it deserves. Success criteria must also be met in levels A, AA, and AAA.
Lastly, the accessibility problems of today are the mainstream breakthroughs of tomorrow. The global market of people with disabilities is large and growing as the global population ages. In the UK, where the large disability market is known as the Purple Pound, people with disabilities and their families spend at least £249 billion every year. In the US, the annual discretionary spending of people with disabilities is over $200 billion. The global estimate of the disability market is nearly $8 trillion. Consider these facts when estimating market size:
- At least one billion people – 16% of the world’s population – have a recognized disability
- As the population ages, many more acquire disabilities and yet do not identify as a “person with a disability”
- In countries with life expectancies over 70 years of age, people spend 1.6 percent of their lifespans living with a disability
It is essential that the Project team consistently receives education on the basics of accessibility to make the product more ergonomic and user-friendly using Agile. Though rapid changes were seen in information and communication technologies, much still needs to be done. But now is the time when we should start taking this into serious consideration!
It is time we start looking at "Disability" as a critical factor when implementing Agile practices.
Ultimately, if Accessibility and Agile get proper attention and effort, they can be a match made in heaven.