An even playing field for all is what is expected in design, whether online or offline. You want everyone to be able to access your material. Right? However, evening the playing field is not as easy as one might expect. Ensuring accessibility can be quite overwhelming,time consuming and quite expensive, as more of our lives require being online.
Accessibility for all leads one to question if newer technologies are keeping up with universal design or are the disabled being omitted, once again? It is my belief that society has become sensitized to the need of disabled people to have accommodations such as unrestrained barriers in environments and services in an offline world. Ramps, handicapped bathrooms and products assuring the least restrictive environment have become common place. Laws were passed to assure those right for the disabled. But, what about the online world? With the increase of internet use in daily living, the subject of accessibility has brought to light the need for people with disabilities to have the same rights online as off-line. Therefore, I pose two questions, ” Who is accessibility for?” and “Is the online world really accessible to everyone?
It is essential that design be accessible in order to provide equal access and opportunity to all, whether disabled or not. We as a society need to stop expecting the disabled to adapt to the digital world, just as we stopped expecting them to climb stairs when they are wheelchair bound. I believe the time has come for the digital world to fully embrace and adapt to accessible design allowing unassisted access as well as a compatibility with assisted technology. Technology certainly has made things more convenient for those that are not disabled. Yet, for the disabled, technology certainly has made things possible to achieve. Google, Apple and the gaming industry now are on board featuring accessibility tools to aid the greatest possibility of achievement. Accessibility is related to Universal Design which is defined as, “the process of creating products that are usable by people with the widest possibility range of situations”. Universal Design evolved from Accessible Design, which addresses the needs of people with disabilities. Universal Design goes much further by saying, “Hey, there is a wide spectrum of human disabilities that need to be considered”. It’s not just for the disabled, it’s for able-bodied persons who might find themselves in a situation caused by illness, age or injury. So, is the online world accessible to everyone? My answer is, sadly no; at least not at this moment in time. Although, great accessibility strides have been and continue to be made for online usage, so much more needs to be done to level the playing field for the diversity of all. We must all do our part as universal designers to assure that we are consciously designing products that are usable by people with the widest possibility range of situation. It is our duty to guarantee that EVERYONE; whether they have disabilities or not have the same leveled online field to play on.
Read more about the Seven Principles of Universal Design.
Take a look at some Web Accessibility Tools