Program Recap: Accessibility: Expanding the Reach of Your Technical Communication Work

On November 14, 2019, STC-SM hosted the program Accessibility: Expanding the Reach of Your Technical Communication Work at Washtenaw Community College (WCC). This program was presented by Jason Withrow who is an instructor at WCC and an accessibility specialist.

What is accessibility and web accessibility? Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments to be usable by people with impairments. Web accessibility refers to the accessibility of websites.

Web accessibility and ensuring content can be consumed by all people should be a high priority of businesses with an online presence. However, it still remains a low priority to many of these companies because they aren’t fully aware of what implications might arise—such as lawsuits. You may have heard about the recent lawsuit that occurred when a blind man sued Domino’s pizza when he couldn’t order a pizza because screen readers were not supported on their mobile app. Domino’s lost the lawsuit; the lower court decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in October 2019. This example emphasizes the importance of the accessibility of products, particularly in newly emerging technologies.

The numbers are staggering for those who could be impacted by inaccessible environments and products. In the United States alone, there are 85 million individuals with impairments, and of which, 55 million are severe impairments.

Jason discussed some different types of impairments we can consider when creating content, which might be situational, temporary, or permanent:

  • Visual
  • Auditory/Speech
  • Mobility
  • Cognitive/Neurological

We are moving towards universal and inclusive design to make content more accessible to all people—regardless of age, disability, or other factors. So, when you are developing content or designing apps or sites, you might want to consider the following:

  • Can individuals find the information?
  • Once the user has found where they need to be, does it make sense to them?
  • Is the content tagged properly for screen readers?
  • In your products, do you provide users an alternative path to achieve their objective?
  • Are you supporting older versions of assistive tools?

So, if we can challenge ourselves as product and content developers to support the business goals of retaining and growing our customer base (and possibly sales), then we also need to think differently about our work and how we choose to approach our designs.

If you would like more information, contact Jason Withrow. Check out more information from the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) site or see the standards from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).