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Reimagining Inclusion Through Accessibility

Around 15 per cent of the world’s population, or estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities. They are the world’s largest minority, and—if we’re lucky, to live long enough—we’ll probably join them, with problems of vision, hearing, and dexterity as we head into old age.

Government and software company initiatives have started towards making sure that technology is accessible to as many people as possible. As it is increasingly important to almost every aspect of our lives.

But all too often, these initiatives are devoted to trying to retrofit and adapt technology designed for the able-bodied, rather than embedding best practices into the core. Designers in other fields have realized that designing for the disabled is simply about designing well. Pilots, for example, have to have excellent vision, but implementing standards so that controls can be easily distinguished by touch as well as by sight has resulted in clear safety improvements.

Most software companies do a lot to promote inclusion in their workforce. But, are they committed to inclusive building products? The standard methods used for developing and testing software today don’t explicitly include provision for the differently-abled. And Usability Engineering goes beyond adapting computer interfaces.

Traditional software development has adhered to development models like Waterfall, Prototyping and Spiral model which have defined phases and procedures for the engineering of software. Unfortunately, none of these models takes into account building software for differently-abled users. This is evidenced by the fact that most software developed today is still inaccessible to differently-abled people.  This often arises from a lack of consideration of the needs of differently-abled people during the software engineering process. Thus, vital considerations for improving accessibility and usability are lacking in the software engineering process.

This raises the case for reimagining the software engineering model, to support usability which promotes inclusive behaviour, that also caters to various characteristics of different user groups. The problem is normally a usability issue and therefore of concern in Usability Engineering (It is often defined as the ease of use and acceptability of a system for a class of users carrying out specific tasks in a specific environment).

To make software equally accessible by all, there needs to be an understanding of the underlying business context of an action/process that is being performed. And this is even more true in the world of enterprise business applications. Companies like SAP who are in the business of helping our customers run better by understanding their business problems are in a unique position to provide relevant business context for any business process. And by exposing this business context in a way that can be used by software developers, we can create more inclusive and accessible experiences, that make it easier not only for the differently-abled but for all of us.  There is a need to provides a unique way of exposing this business context so that they can be used by software developers to create experiences that are more inclusive and accessible.

And it’s potentially a big opportunity. First, organizations are rightfully under pressure to extend more roles to the differently-abled, and the “office jobs” (as we called them when we still went to the office!) that are generally well-adapted for the differently-abled are also the roles that require the most access to enterprise business applications. According to research, 71% of differently-abled web users do not stay on a website that’s not accessible. This leads us to believe that there is a market that is uncatered to because the software available in the market doesn’t cater to their differently-abled personas. Companies need to focus on creating unique experiences that are tailor-made to help users of different abilities interact with the software.

The need of the hour is to create equally accessible software as stringent laws are being created/amended, such as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), United Kingdom Disability Discrimination Act, etc. to protect the rights of differently-abled software users. This is all the more important for organizations such as government agencies, many of which have come under fire for violating accessibility standards.

To create equally accessible software a systemic change is required in the software design model. This would require product development teams to embrace accessibility as an ethos rather than a criterion that needs to be fulfilled.

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