Inclusivity is not a choice
My fiancé and I often argue about things ranging from who ate the last piece of cake to who should do the dishes on Sundays. But the more interesting debates happen when we discuss our loosely intermingled professional roles and the work they involve. One such insightful conversation went something like this –
Him: I need to approve a design of a dashboard for my client. Does it look good to you?
Me: *takes one look* Looks neat, but the colours are not accessibility compliant.
Him: What’s that?
Me: There are guidelines to ensure that those afflicted with colour blindness can consume content effortlessly.
Him: Oh, THAT! Yeah, but this is a B2B product. We don’t need to focus on that right now.
Me: Are you really telling me there are ZERO employees in the company that could be affected by colour blindness?
Him: *thinks* I guess - I think I’ll go do the dishes.
His reaction was not unexpected, simply because I’ve heard this countless times. People who create products, at the early stages, often forget that there are individuals beyond their scope of imagination, who don’t live their lives as we expect them to. Colour-blindness is one such obvious example, but there are millions worldwide who face challenges in consuming digital content because of their condition. The easiest rebuttal to this is, often, a simple ‘We won’t be focusing on that right now given the resources we have’. Notice how no one ever says, ‘We don’t CARE about these problems.’ They simply conclude that, at this point in time, inclusivity is not a priority. This poses a multitude of challenges, namely that it -
1. Creates a product that cannot be used by all members of the target audience because companies rarely invest in getting their accessibility right.
2. Develops a cycle of playing catch-up because at SOME point, businesses will HAVE to start thinking about these problems. It might just be too late to change anything then.
3. Sets the precedent that it’s okay to ignore a section of the population in the quest for rapidly innovating.
Just to put things into perspective, the image below shows colours in their true form on the top and how these colours appear to someone affected by Protanopia (a form of colour blindness) at the bottom.
It’s time we took a hard look at the culture we are propagating with such behavior. And this, my fellow designers, is on us. Let’s take colour blindness, for example. Those who work in user experience and user interface design know that colour palettes are often decided by 2 factors: the brand’s image and the ultimate product being designed. While there’s not much room to change the brand’s identity entirely, it’s surely possible to pick the heroes and find shades that maintain the compliance guidelines without creating a jarring colour combination. Yes, it takes a little more thought and effort, but isn’t that what makes our work impactful?
The next stage involves selling the design to the client and in that, designers fail to use the biggest weapon at their disposal: data. 1 in every 12 men and 1 in every 200 women suffer from colour blindness. It’s also estimated that there are almost 300 million such people in the world! Imagine the business opportunity lost here! These numbers are far higher for other disabilities - one just has to care enough, in order to unlock the full potential of their solution.
Today, there are a variety of software solutions that help people understand how disabilities affect people’s worldview. There are WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) documents that explain how to make web content more accessible to all. These guidelines undergo incremental updates only every 4-5 years, meaning that businesses needn’t worry about the cost of redesigning their product frequently.
Why does it matter to you as a reader? Because the change begins with you. Have you ever wondered if your Instagram monologue is understood by those with hearing disabilities? Ever thought about how those with visual impairments read your PowerPoint presentations? These may not seem like massive problems that you can take on as an individual, but the least you can do is read about the topic and keep yourself informed. Apply the principles wherever possible to be as inclusive as you can be. Lastly, remember that just because you’re not in a position of power to change the way a system works, doesn’t mean that your contribution is futile. If we are to build a better, more inclusive tomorrow, this change needs to begin today. And, in that, you can be the first.
Speaking of being first, I better go check on the cake before a certain someone gets to it. 😉
Want to know where to begin designing for accessibility? Visit Introduction to Web Accessibility | Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) | W3C