Regardless of your product or platform, it’s crucial to ensure everyone can easily access it, including those with disabilities.
It can be easy to write off accessibility as a “nice-to-have” when developing software. However, statistics from the World Health Organization highlight how prevalent disabilities are in our world:
- 16% of the world’s population—1 in 6 people—experience significant disability.
- Only 10% of the disabled population has access to assistive products.
- By 2050, more than 3.5 billion people will need at least one assistive product.
Accessibility involves considering the diverse needs of these users and providing features and functionalities that enable equal access and participation.
In many cases, accessibility features are a legal requirement.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can implement accessibility into your software development process, highlight what it looks like in various stages, and list the benefits of accessibility to your users and your product.
Implementing Accessibility into Custom Software Development
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WGAC) 2.1. has been considered the “gold standard” for accessibility guidelines for many years.
We’ve outlined these standards throughout previous articles, so we won’t spend too much time on them here. However, a brief overview will be helpful as we discuss this topic in depth.
There are four main categories the WGAC 2.1 considers when it comes to accessibility:
Perceivable: Creating intuitive software that presents information clearly to all users. This includes text alternatives, captions, special contrasts, and more.
Operable: Your software is user-friendly and makes it simple for users to navigate using accessible keyboards, limits flashing animations, and gives users more time to complete tasks without unexpected content changes.
Understandable: Make your application accessible to all by using clear language and interface. Create text that is understandable in the user’s language and explain uncommon words.
Robust: Developing robust software ensures compatibility with user agents and assistive technologies. This guideline outlines the programmatic parsing of UI components, including content parsing, naming, role assignment, value setting, and status messaging.
Accessibility Throughout the Development Process
With a better idea of what accessibility needs to look like, we’ll focus on development and how it can be integrated.
Sep DiMeglio, a user experience and accessibility customer engineer for Microsoft, explained how each development phase can be explicitly tailored for improved accessibility.
From the beginning, talking to diverse user groups is critical.
“We want to be sure that we’re being mindful of all of our users’ needs,” DiMeglio said.
You can get a holistic picture of your entire user base by getting input from a wide-ranging audience. You can then use that information to plan for what accessibility features will be most important.
You also want to consider which kinds of assistive technology your users are accustomed to and how your custom software could collaborate with them.
Think about how the different technology needs will be used across your experience.
As you focus on how your product can benefit a specific set of users, you will also see how it can help all users.
“By specifically designing solutions for a group with one set of needs, we can extend these benefits to the masses,” DiMeglio said.
Design and Planning
With the research phase completed, it’s time to take what you’ve learned and map out how to implement this through the design process.
There are several design elements you’ll want to consider that tend to be universal in software accessibility.
High Color Contrast: Use color in your software mindfully and provide a strong color contrast.
Multiple Visible Indicators: Creating buttons or links that make it clear to any user what the next step should be.
Keyboard/Touch Interactions: This takes into consideration important factors such as the amount of padding or touch target size around each button on a touch screen.
It also determines how well the software responds to the tab and arrow keys on a manual keyboard in a traditional desktop experience.
Setup Easy Recovery: Including opportunities and features for users to recover or escape when they make a mistake.
One of the easiest ways to develop customized software that is accessible is to use standardized components.
There are a multitude of resources out there that have been successfully tested and used to meet accessibility standards or developed with the right assistive technology in mind.
Consider implementing these components before you try to recreate the wheel.
Another phase of development that is crucial in accessibility is creating scalable pages.
This may seem obvious. However, poorly designed software that doesn’t adjust to different screen dimensions will be impractical for users who need different types of technology to navigate the digital space.
Benefits of Accessibility in Custom Software Development
Accessibility is crucial for improving the software experience for all users, whether legally required or not.
Accessibility is an ethical imperative in software development.
Individuals with disabilities are entitled to the same dignity and rights as everyone else. They shouldn’t be excluded or marginalized in the digital world.
Prioritizing accessibility aligns with ethical fairness, respect, and social equity principles.
Inclusivity and Equal Opportunity
Accessibility ensures that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities to access and benefit from your software.
It promotes inclusivity by removing barriers and providing an equitable user experience for all users, regardless of their abilities.
Legal and Regulatory Compliance
Many countries have laws and regulations that mandate accessibility standards for software applications, especially those used in the public sector or by organizations serving the public.
By complying with these requirements, you’re avoiding potential legal issues and providing access for all users.
Expanded User Base
By incorporating accessibility features, software applications can cater to a broader range of users.
You provide access to users with visual or hearing impairments, motor disorders, cognitive impairments, and other disabilities.
Making software accessible taps into new user segments and expands the user base.
In doing so, you also give these groups opportunities they may not have otherwise.
Enhanced User Experience
Designing for a group with specific needs can create a better experience for everyone.
Designing for accessibility encourages clear and intuitive interfaces, consistent navigation, and well-organized content.
This benefits users with or without disabilities.
A better user experience can result in increased user satisfaction and engagement.
Improved Usability and Efficiency
Accessibility features—such as keyboard navigation, alternative input methods, and text-to-speech capabilities—can enhance the usability of software applications for all users.
Individuals with disabilities and users in diverse contexts benefit from streamlined interactions and increased efficiency.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Incorporating accessibility in custom software development demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility.
It highlights an organization’s dedication to diversity, inclusivity, and equal opportunity.
This positively impacts its reputation and relationships with customers, employees, and the broader community.
Future-Proofing and Scalability
By considering accessibility during the development process, software applications are more likely to be adaptable and scalable.
They’re better prepared for future updates, technology changes, and new accessibility standards without requiring significant modifications or redevelopment.
Developing Software for Everyone
At Taazaa, we believe in developing custom software that is accessible to all users.
It allows organizations to create more inclusive, user-friendly, and socially responsible software applications.
More importantly, it empowers individuals with disabilities to fully participate in the digital community and contributes to a more equitable and inclusive society.