Tools and strategies to design and test for accessibility
Software programs, applications and Web sites are successful when they reach as many customers as possible, deliver the required function and are easy to use. Have you considered your entire customer base and their diverse requirements? You may be missing a large number of potential customers if you aren't considering accessibility in your designs and products. Accessible products, applications and Web sites can help you to reach the millions of people with disabilities who require access to technology. This is a major market segment with an estimated $225 billion in disposable income in the US alone1.
The need for accessibility
People who are visually impaired, mobility challenged or hearing impaired require products and services that are accessible. IBM is dedicated to providing tools and technologies to help make this possible.
- A screen reader that speaks aloud information presented on a Web site to allow blind users to access the Internet.
- Instant captioning technology that displays spoken words as text on a screen for deaf users.
- Settings that allow low-vision users or seniors to customize the way Web pages are presented.
- Keyboard options that allow people with mobility limitations to avoid redundant or missed strokes.
In 1998, a new federal law amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act significantly expanding and strengthening technology access requirements. The new law requires that federal agencies must procure electronic and information technology that is accessible for federal employees who have disabilities and to members of the public with disabilities who need to use that technology.
Section 508 also applies to Web sites that are produced for government agencies. Accessible products and compliance with these requirements allow you to participate in this significant federal market. Producing accessible products will also demonstrate that your company has followed certain national and international standards and guidelines, such as those created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Many techniques and solutions that address the needs of people with disabilities also address the needs of people as they grow older. The US government estimates that by 2010, more than half of the workforce will be over the age of 45. This aging workforce, that is technology savvy, is driving the need for accessible technology to help overcome obstacles associated with aging including hearing, vision and mobility challenges.
Making products accessible is just good business
Accessibility may begin with compliance, but it extends beyond regulations to incorporate usability and personalization. Adding these to your application design can help provide a more powerful, positive user interaction with your products and services. Delivering accessible IT, in conjunction with your existing offerings, can provide the following benefits:
- Opportunity to sell to the federal government-the largest purchaser of computer software-where accessibility is a requirement.
- Ability to partner with other vendors and organizations that are increasingly doing business only with companies whose products meet accessibility requirements.
- Offerings that are in compliance with worldwide regulations and standards including World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommendations.
- Enhanced customer satisfaction with Web sites that are designed to be user-friendly with consistent and easy-to-use interfaces for all users.
- Access to an expanded customer base.
Planning for accessibility
Incorporating accessibility into your technology doesn't have to be difficult or expensive-if it is a factor at the front end of your design and is integrated throughout the development process. Think of accessibility as a component of all your development activities, rather than as isolated components of the development project. For instance, assistive technology-including screen readers, talking browsers, and screen magnifiers-uses the accessible information you provide in your application along with accessibility interfaces and the underlying operating system to make an application accessible.
When your organization embraces accessibility, it can help improve customer service and satisfaction, employee development and retention, operational efficiency and vendor diversity. But reaching these goals requires clear planning, an actionable strategy and an efficient deployment team.
Creating documents and applications that are accessible by more people can be relatively easy as long as basic steps are followed:
- Know the requirements of the users.
- Implement techniques found in accessibility guidelines.
- Use assistive technology tools and actual end users to test the application during the testing phase.
IBM tools for accessibility development
IBM provides techniques that can help you design and test Web sites and other information and technology for accessibility.
IBM developer guidelines are provided online to guide software, Web, Java, IBM Lotus Notes®, hardware and peripheral accessibility. They include techniques and checklists to help you understand what you need to do to make your technology and information accessible to people with disabilities. The guidelines include how to use HPR and other assistive technology as tools to assess application and document accessibility.
Additional support from IBM
IBM provides additional support to help developers design and test for accessibility.
- Accessibility education through PartnerWorld University (available August, 2004)
- Subject matter expertise from e-architects
- Fee based offerings for more detailed accessibility training and support
The importance of accessibility
"One of my biggest complaints about the information technology (IT) industry is that IT is still just too difficult to use. That's a blanket statement that applies to all users of IT-it's still way too hard to get what you really need from computing. And that difficulty is multiplied many times over for those of us who have unique physical challenges."
"Accessibility is important to IBM, and not just because it's the right thing to do for our people, or because it's an essential part of our business, but also because I believe driving higher levels of accessibility will be a primary way we begin to solve the difficult usability issues that IT has thus far not been able to solve. I think that out of our work making computing easier to use for people with disabilities we will think of radically new approaches. Out of these approaches we will find, not just ways of helping people with disabilities, but ways of making computing far more natural and intuitive."
— Dr. Paul Horn, senior vice president, IBM Research.
© Copyright IBM Corporation 2007