Diversity & Inclusion

6 ways your tech is making it harder on people with disabilities

Accessibility experts and users with disabilities share what often stops them from having seamless digital experiences.

Scoring deals from the T-Mobile app is impossible for Yvonne Hughes, who's visually impaired. (Photo courtesy of Grace Shallow)

This month’s Editorial Calendar is underwritten by the subject matter experts at Think Company. The stories were independently reported and not reviewed by Think Company before publication. Learn more about our advertising options here.

Technical.ly’s Editorial Calendar explores a different topic each month. The April 2018 topic is accessibility. These stories explore people and firms making technologies that all people can use. From assistive technology to web accessibility, these stories explore the latest in building a more inclusive society.
From something as seemingly trivial as missing out on online promo deals to something as crucial as the inability to apply for certain jobs, lack of inclusivity in tech design can have real-world consequences for people with disabilities.

Let’s make the problem even more relatable: Say your nearest drug store was the only one carrying a specific medicine you need, but the website is inaccessible to you. As spotted by Think Company accessibility expert Mikey Ilagan, that was the case with Walgreens, whose website — at least for a minute there — did not let users with screen readers access its website.

As subject experts have already posited, accessible design is better design, in that it takes into consideration what an entire user base might need as part of an experience, rather than view users with disabilities as “edge cases.”

As part of our editorial calendar theme for April, we spoke to users with disabilities and accessibility experts to suss out the frequent barriers and flaws that take inclusivity away from the digital space.

No large-text compliance

For Philip Wismer, who is Deaf and has vision loss, the large text functionality is key to using mobile apps.

“Some of the apps would not work well with it,” Wismer said. “The Amtrak app, for example, does show the large text but then it messes up with the interface so I can’t tap where I want to tap, because the words get in the way.”

Wismer, 30, said both iPhone 6 and 7 Plus models have had issues with accessibility features that have prevented him from fully using apps.

Images, structure and keys

Accessibility expert Austin Seraphin, who is visually impaired and the cofounder of Philly Touch Tour, quickly lists off a trio of obstacles that stand between him and smooth digital experiences:

“Unlabeled images (alt tags), buttons, and links; improper heading structure and not responding to keyboard events,” he said.

P.S. Per Technical.ly editorial policy, all images must include alt text.

Lack of people with disabilities on the team

Yet another way tech talent has a diversity problem: there aren’t enough people with disabilities as part of tech teams. For Neil McDevitt, executive director of the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre, this is the source of many of the problems listed here.

“Whether or not it’s intentional or an oversight, it’s truly difficult to make apps accessible when you’re designing for some abstract concept or stereotype of disability,” said McDevitt. “When Deaf people and other people with disabilities are genuinely involved in the development process, it truly forces everyone to shift their perception of how their app works.”

Timed out by an accessibility tool

Customers of T-Mobile Tuesdays have weekly access to discounts, freebies and deals, but not Yvonne Hughes, the deputy administrator of community services nonprofit It’s Not Your Fault in North Philly.

See, when Hughes — who’s visually impaired due to a hereditary ailment — tries to use the app, the pace at which her screen reader moves is too slow. It times her out and she must start again, only to get timed-out over and over.

“It takes a while for you to use the information because your phone is talking to you,” said Hughes, who has access to technology tools by way of the Temple University–based Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology.

“It’s timed as if it was a sighted person using it,” she lamented.

Ask first” policy

Accessibility consultant Ather Sharif, founder of EvoXLabs said designers and developers tend to assume what people with disabilities need or how they would use a website without performing the necessary studies with actual folks with disabilities.

“Or at the very least, asking one. :)” said Sharif, a Comcast engineer who moved to Chicago and was selected for the 2018 class of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Fellows, a leadership program for people with disabilities.

HTML basics should be inclusive

For Think Company’s Ilagan, frequent design flaws include poor color contrast for people with low visual acuity or color blindness, complex and/or custom UI where keyboard controls weren’t thought about and overall poor usability.

“Sites usually fail because people intentionally or unintentionally miss the target on HTML fundamentals,” said Ilagan. “Native applications usually fail because people miss it entirely when it can be done arguably faster/easier on native.”

Companies: Think Company
People: Ather Sharif / Austin Seraphin / Michaelangelo Ilagan
Projects: Accessibility Month 2018

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