IndustryWhy Developers Should Focus on Accessibility

Faye Bridge
writes on June 20, 2017

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For the majority of you reading this, a world without technology is now unimaginable. It’s at the forefront of our personal lives, essential in our work lives and supports us – in ways we no longer notice – in our day-to-day lives. When was the last time you went to the bank to cash a check? Or calculated an equation in your head? When was the last time you pulled out a roadmap? Or memorized a phone number or used a pay phone? The number of ways technology is integrated into our lives is endless.

As technology has evolved, it has also been adopted by a wider audience. Early adopters of desktop computers, then laptops, then smartphones and tablets trended towards teens and young adults. But today, all of these devices are in the hands of a diverse population, from toddlers to seniors. With 75% of children in the US age 8 and under now accessing a computer at home, younger generations are becoming hardwired with an intuitive understanding of technology. In contrast, older generations are faced with a steep and intimidating learning curve when they’re first introduced to everyday technology.

Today, 74% of people age 50-64 and 42% of people 65+ have smartphones in the US. You need only look at Facebook, the most popular social platform in the world to see the same shift in adoption. Though Facebook was initially built for university students, it’s now a global community that encompasses all ages. In fact, as of January this year, 63% of people age 50-64 and 56% of people 65+ are now on Facebook.

So why are these stats important for developers? Because these shifts in tech adoption by a wider audience are enabled by one key factor: Accessibility.

ac•ces•si•bil•i•ty (noun) The quality of being easy to obtain or use.

The evolution of tech adoption is exciting but also brings to light a new challenge to be addressed, especially considering that the majority of these technologies are built and managed by a younger, tech-savvy generation. With their pre-existing familiarity with tech, the steep learning curve for older generations can be overlooked.

As part of his Design In Tech Report at SXSW 2017, John Maeda, head of computational design & inclusion at Automattic was asked how we can empower adults still struggling with technology. He responded: “The industry is trying to figure that out right now. In general, everything has to be easier to use. For example, think of anything involving voice interfaces. It’s a counter notion of the need to use a mouse on a screen, etc. Voice interfaces allow any ordinary person to use it.”

The important point that Maeda makes is that – now more than ever – technology needs to be accessible for everyone; From UI and UX, to how you market and message your software, app, service or product. Of course, you have a target user in mind, but also take the time to consider how your product might meet the needs of others you’ve not yet considered. By ensuring it’s accessible, you’ll provide an opportunity for others to discover the value of what you’ve built. Strip away the intimidation of technology for those who are new to it and enhance their lives in ways they haven’t imagined yet.

Keep an eye out for a follow-up post with tips for how to effectively integrate accessibility into your workflow. 

Strip away the intimidation of technology for those who are new to it and enhance their lives in ways they haven’t imagined yet.

 

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