This is quite an easy one, luckily the world of IT has adopted a meaningful term rather than resorting to new and confusing jargon.
(Ed. unfortunately there is still some jargon in this short introduction)
Let’s start with some general definitions and context:
[Accessibility of a place] able to be reached or entered
Of course you want your place of work, shop, office, library or park to be found and accessed, for example with good signage and wheelchair-friendly, fundamentally there should be no barriers to entry.
[of a person] friendly and easy to talk to, approachable
We’ve all experienced products, services, people and places that are very unfriendly! However, if a conversation, in the broadest sense, is important to you as the Customer/service user or provider, then it should be as easy as possible…why make things unnecessarily complicated?
How can I help you?
Let’s have a look at the world of technology and how it follows these general rules. First, what about physical products and services, what does accessible mean?
- Usable for its intended purpose
- …with expected performance levels
- …and by all the intended Users or user groups, with appropriate permissions
- …and in normal [operating] conditions, and probably a range of unexpected but feasible scenarios. The latter can include putting the target product or system under stress.
- Provide appropriate guidance, instructions and help both when things work as expected and when they don’t (especially when they don’t)
- Be compatible with other products, components and activities
- Meet any legal or regulatory frameworks…of which more later
- Do not harm, disadvantage or prejudice-against the User
I’ve strayed into a broader set of criteria that touch on what your product or service does (its functionality) and design – collectively called usability – and how it performs in given circumstances.
However, I hope you agree these can all affect accessibility?
Software-based products and remote or virtual services should follow the same rules, but can be trickier because the developer or distributor may not be able to control its use. For example, a smart phone app may be limited to a platform (e.g. iTunes or Android), certain devices, a minimum version of an Operating System, or some specific feature such as memory size, and this is all before you even install and use the app.
Access all areas
So far I have deliberately avoided mentioning disabilities. It doesn’t really matter who the user is, and whatever condition they may have, such as blindness/partial-sight, hearing or motor skills impairment or simply a varying level of ability, the good practice criteria listed above should still apply.
Web accessibility as a discipline and a subset of accessibility is mostly concerned with ensuring that your website is the best it can be for different able and disabled user groups. For example:
- Font types and sizes, colour contrast for the partially sighted
- Special instructions or ‘tags’ for screen readers that translate content for the blind
- Descriptions of visual media for the blind to explain what your pictures, animations and videos contain
- Subtitles or signing of videos for the deaf
- Features that help users with the keyboard, pointing devices or touch screens to navigate around, complete forms, follow links etc.
Last but not least, ensure readability, consistency, layout and design for EVERYONE.
Here is an excellent post from the good people at A Bright Clear Web with more detail on web accessibility in the UK.
Mind your step
(the small print)
So, to play Devll’s Advocate, why would you want to spend time and money on accessibility measures?
(Ed. because it’s good business practice, because you have a social conscience and want to encourage inclusion and equal rights – for example)
In the case of the web, the standards body W3C, which is the closest the web has to an owner, provide a set of guidelines, which reference the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Interesting that the latter recognizes, ‘access to information and communications technologies, including the web’ as a basic human right…that’s something to discuss with your broadband supplier!
The W3C also has a separate working group, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), and guidelines for web content accessibility (WCAG).
Maybe a bit more pressing, in the UK at least, is a piece of legislation; the Disability Discrimination Act, 1995 (DDA). This covers access to everyday services and protection against disability discrimination, now rolled into the massive Equality Act, 2010. Good luck reading that whatever your ability or disability!
Other rules might apply where you live, but if your website is used outside of the UK, whether you have paying Customers or provide an ‘everyday service’ or not, it’s worth getting your house in order and put out the welcome mat for everyone.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction to Accessibility. If you want to know more about usability, there is a separate IT element about User Experience ‘UX’.
(c) 2016 IT elementary school Ltd.