Accessibility is good for everyone

A typical criticism of accessibility from companies is that it is too much expense for too little benefit – “We only have one blind person on the payroll”.

This stems from a misunderstanding that accessibility only benefits blind people or disabled people in general, but in reality, most of the people who end up benefiting are not officially disabled.

A station lift

Here’s an example – a lift is installed at a train station to satisfy the law, but who really benefits the most?

Disabled use of the station lift

A small number of wheelchair users.

Non-disabled use of the station lift

  • Family on holiday with large, heavy suitcases
  • Mum with child in pram
  • Older person with bad knees
  • Lawyer in crutches coming back from a skiing holiday
  • Tube workers taking a trolly of equipment up from the platform
  • Young person with heavy shopping and bulky items
  • Busker carrying guitar, amplifier, and heavy battery pack
  • Commuter taking a shortcut in the rush hour
  • Office worker going on business trip laden down with laptop, work files, suit bag and weekend bag

We can see here that an accessibility measure such as a lift benefits a wide range of people, and the same applies to technology.

A company intranet

Firms are legally obliged to make intranets accessible to all their employees. They must be designed and written so disability is not a barrier to entry. This is similiar to the way that the train company has to provide step-free access to stations.

Benefits for blind employees if intranet is made accessible

A small number of blind employees can work more efficiently.

Benefits for non-blind employees if intranet is made accessible

  • Can still use it effectively if you forget your glasses
  • Works for color-blind people (10% of male population)
  • Works on Blackberry, iPhone, mobile phones
  • Prints out perfectly
  • Displays on projector correctly
  • Works across web browers consistently
  • Works great on netbooks and tablet computers
  • Can be better understood by non-native English speakers
  • Easier to navigate if you’re dyslexic
  • Will be more useful if you’re deaf or hard of hearing

The wider benefits of accessibility

Apart from the obvious moral benefits of not discriminating against people, accessibility provides plenty of benefits which give the firm a competitive advantage:

Legal benefits

  • Avoid industrial tribunals
  • Avoid court cases

Technical benefits

  • Systems are easier to manage
  • Websites work on other browsers/platforms/devices (incl. BlackBerry) at no extra effort
  • Good for search engines
  • Improve future proofing

Economic benefits

  • Increase productivity
  • Reduce costs (maintenance/support)
  • Increase profits

PR benefits

  • Firm seen as inclusive and forward-looking.
  • Avoid complaints
  • Avoid bad press