What should we do to improve product and services accessibility For visually impaired and blind individuals

Hello friends, yet  another post this time is a textbased. In this 1 I want to put my thoughts down what to do about the accessibility, what shall we do ourselves and how to advise others about it. I hope that is useful to you, and you agree with my opinion even a small bit, If you want to state your opinion and add extra ideas you can always use the contact section on this website to do so.

You can listen the audio version of this article below, so you can get the content when you’re doing something else or just enjoy the  article a little bit more with more natural voice than your average screen reader.

First of all, accessibility is a human right, same way as privacy, opinion and freedom, and everyone I know I think would agree with that statement 100%. By accessibility I am talking about ability to access information that is presented in apps, websites and other presentation mediums.

In this article I will refer to accessibility as accessibility for software and technology. I focus on it the most, because everything nowadays have 2 main components in those are software and hardware. Hardware without software is just a metal box with metal pieces attached. Every hardware is run by the software and that’s where we lack accessibility.

We have vending machines, ATM’s, ticket stations and much more hardware that has none accessibility whatsoever. So basically that destroys the independence aspect, for me and many others I know being independent is a top priority. If I want to get cash from the cart, I cannot do so on my own, simply because the ATM is not accessible, it does not have a built in screen reader so therefore I cannot use it and as a result of that I cannot be independent in this area. There are many other areas like this that has very little accessibility to the blind and visually impaired.

Of course, in the perfect world everything is perfect, but as we know we are not living in one for sure. I am writing this article for the purpose of thinking out loud what’s possible and how can we improve the situation where people with no vision or very little of it can access information as good as cited people can. I am visually impaired myself, so thus I will focus on accessibility using screen readers and how can we improve the situation in this regard specifically.

Accessibility improved significantly over 10 years, major operating systems have good screen readers with plenty functionality and capabilities for those who cannot see the screen. We are in quite good situation with regard to this specific area, and companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft invested good amount of work to get this working properly, and I must say it does work very well. Truth to be told there is not that much I can think of right now to make screen readers themselves much better.

That said however that’s where bright light starts to narrow a bit. I can tell you that I have enough experience and knowledge about coding, and I can tell you that there is plenty functionality in the development tools to make applications accessible. I think many people would agree with me that even though most of the major apps are accessible, there are equally useful other apps that are not accessible or accessibility is not implemented very well. So naturally the question arises what is the problem, if there are tools and techniques how to make them accessible why that isn’t the case in majority of time?

Accessibility is a science and could be taught as any other subject, however it is not. Why do I say that you may ask? The reason is that we are lacking accessibility is simply because there is not enough education in this area. There is a simple logic that follows, if you want to be good at something you have to study the subject and apply the knowledge you learn in practice, right? Well, that’s how we evolve as a nation that how technology is improved.

Most of the people reading this article probably know where I am going with this, and the answer of course is education, education and more education. We don’t have proper accessibility education; well, I never saw in the college listed anywhere accessibility as a subject. I studied software development myself and I never saw a glimpse of accessibility mentioned anywhere. Why is that then? Well, the simple answer is it is not as high priority as other subjects are.

The best thing what we can do in this regard is to build a standard curriculum that should be covered in courses where development is the main subject, and I am talking about software development, hardware development, building design and so on. I am talking implementing accessible designs in all of the processes where human interaction is involved.

Many app developers I talked to or articles I read, always say accessibility is too expensive, it is too late we cannot integrate accessibility and so on. You know what? In my humble opinion accessibility does not cost any extra money if you are aware of it at the very start of your product design whatever the product may be software, hardware and anything else in between. Every part of the human experience needs to be accessible and by accessible, I mean the design needs to have components in the design itself that is accessible for those who cannot see at all or have very little vision. I am very specific regarding the vision part here, but that also can be applied in any other accessibility requirement.

At this moment accessibility is an add on to design it is not a specification, or standard, but it should be. At this moment accessibility is something companies are proud of and they are bragging about, but it not should be that way, it should be part of the process and part of the design. When that happens and only then will have accessibility and not sooner.

This logic of course sounds good, and most of the theories does, until it is applied to practice and tested. So, the question is where do we begin? and how do we do it? And the answer does not require much thinking to be honest, we start from the beginning from the very start where we can define the rules of engagement. Before I go to the suggestions in my ideas on this, I will admit that changes take time and it’s never easy.

So as any problem solving we do have to define the problem 1st and find the missing pieces from the puzzle. Education of course is 1 of the main pieces but question remains what do we teach and how do we design the teaching experience itself? So, it is effective and makes sense in the long term. My idea to solve the education part is that 1st step we must take is to teach about various accessibility issues in the 1st place, then we teach what’s available right now and include best tools and techniques to improve the accessibility situation. As I said earlier if we start with accessible design at the very start it may not cost that much or cost may be equals to zero.

There are numerous ways to educate people, could be conferences, advertisement, social media campaigns and so on. That said, of course all of it does cost money and that’s I think what is the responsibility of the government. That is what we are doing regarding the alcohol and drugs right? So why can’t we do that with accessibility I may ask?

It is possible, everything is possible if there is a motive, I repeated that for the few times in this article but we need motive, and we have it, it is just not on display at this moment. To be honest I am not familiar with accessibility laws at all, but to be honest even more if there are any? They are not very effective in my humble opinion.

I suppose the government is made of people and we are the people, so we have to be the main motivators for the change. As hard as it is in my opinion, we have to start the change and then the existing government should support it.

Most of the programmers and other designers have no clue about the requirements when they are designing the product, how can we expect them to include accessibility related features we want and need If they are never taught about it, and the answer to that question is it’s impossible. If the student is taught about accessibility during his or her study time, he or she will include the knowledge when designing a new product and apply the knowledge about accessibility in the process of designing the product. As people say there is always a way if there is a motive.

Education is a long term solution that will take ages to implement, but it’s most feasible no doubt about it. What about the short term migration solution? That question I will say clearly defined standards is the solution. At this very moment.

Businesses do not have to include accessibility because it does not bring any extra value and most importantly nobody requires accessibility stamp from the government or anything else to prove the accessibility features to have the product available to the mass markets. Well, that is not such a good thing for blind and visually impaired individuals.

We are never taught about accessibility and never asked to implement accessibility in the design, and as a result of that we are not going to do it that is more often than not the case. Only the very few individuals and organizations are thoughtful, or willing to go extra step to be the best of the best and accessible even though there are no extra returns attached to it. That would change however if we have a law and standard in place, why? Well, the principle of law is on our side if we are getting penalized or limited in the way if we are not including accessibility, we must do so if we want to stay in a mass market.

Up to this point this article covered the faults of the government and institutions regarding inaccessibility and issues attached with it, but if education is the key what else is there? The answer to this question is we individuals, me you and anyone else who is reading this article has the responsibility to report issues as best as they can to inform the organizations about the issues in their products that they think is relevant to accessibility.

Remember that education always comes from various places it comes from the teacher who is teaching you, and the students who are taught in the class. Having this metaphor in mind we are the students, and we can teach the teachers about what are the needs of visually impaired and blind individuals and what can be done to improve the situation. I feel no guilt in this area, because I try my best to report the issues I come across to the developers, and developers for me it is because I use software and computer a lot. I always write a report what is wrong and what could be improved. I don’t push for a fix because they know if they are not willing to do so, they not going to doo it. Rather I give them and advice in the reasons to do so.

Nothing ever happens overnight, but you know what changes the actions of the people? It is mindset, because mindset drive the change and change is what we need. Collectively, you and me can do a lot, we may not think of ourselves as a changing force, you and me, and others think to ourselves, I cannot change anything but you can! If there is more than 1 of you. So, in conclusion education is the answer to better future not only inaccessibility but in other areas to. But if we are specific to accessibility, we have to learn ourselves and to teach others about it, because in simple terms if there is no motivation there is no change.