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Accessibility Affects You

Curb cut with wheelchair

A few weeks ago it was Accessibility Week. I very much wanted to write about accessibility but I didn’t have time to sit down and type.

I’ll take the time now. Better late than never.

The thing about accessibility that captured my attention since starting in user experience is that it affects everyone. Me, you, everyone.

We often associate the word accessibility with physical disabilities. While accessible products are often built with disabilities in mind, their affordances are make all of our lives so much easier.

Curb Cuts

A curb cut is the part of the sidewalk that ramps down to the road.

They were designed and built for citizens in wheelchairs.

And it wasn’t until 1971 that the first municipality, Berkeley, took action and introduced curb cuts to all major intersections. It was met with such resounding success that they can be found at just about every single intersection in every single city around the world.

Curb Cut Effect

Surely at some point in your life you have benefited from a curb cut.

Maybe you were mounting the sidewalk while on a bicycle. Maybe pushing a stroller or shopping cart or trolley. Maybe even just the convenience of being able to comfortably and safely walk up to a sidewalk while crossing a busy street.

Curb cut effect examples
Source: Sketchplanations

When we build products with accessibility, everyone benefits.

That is what the curb cut effect is.

Cut into the curb, and we create a path forward for everyone.

Angela Glover Blackwell

Varying Degrees of Disability

Disabilities come in all forms from all people.

Often when we think about disabilities we think permanent physical disability. We think about wheelchairs and blindness.

But disability takes many forms and it has likely affected you personally.

There are three categories of disability from a UX point of view.

  • Permanent
  • Temporary
  • Situational

Everyone is already familiar with permanent disabilities so let’s talk about the others.

Temporary Disabilities

As it relates to digital products think about ways in which a user might not be able to use a project with their full ability for a short while.

Breaking an arm limiting mobility until your arm heals.

Getting laser eye surgery and waiting for them to recover.

A temporary disability is one that affects a user for a while but they will eventually be back to their normal.

When we accommodate those users with permanent disability, we are also accommodating those with temporary disability.

Situational Disabilities

Situational disabilities are like temporary disabilities except their situation is fleeting, but present.

A parent carrying a child might only have one arm for a time.

A driver who is, unsafely, using a a mobile app while driver may not see clearly what they are pressing.

Source: Unknown

Examples of Accessible Products

Here are a few examples of products whose origins involved designing for disability.

Conclusion

When you are designing a new product be sure to consider the accessibility needs of your users, even those users who may not have the appearance of needing accommodation.

When we design for everyone inclusively, we build better products for everyone.

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