1904labs Accessibility Training: How Accessible Technology Benefits All Users

What inspired Italian inventor Pellegrino Turri to build one of the world’s first typewriters in the early 19th century? It wasn’t because he disliked writing in longhand, or because he was chasing fortune. It was because Turri wanted to help his blind friend to write legibly.

Accessible technology can benefit everyone. Many of the technological conveniences we enjoy today were developed by innovators who were trying to make technology more accessible to people with physical and cognitive disabilities. It’s likely you use assistive technology every day, when you’re dictating a text message to a friend (speech recognition), relying on your car to alert you if you’re dozing off (gaze tracking), or simply walking through an automatic door while carrying groceries.

1904labs recently took an opportunity to learn more about accessibility through an intensive training course taught by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) expert Billy Gregory of The Paciello Group. At first, our Human-Centered Design practice, which is responsible for conducting accessibility testing, was going to take the course alone but then we decided to also get our developers up to snuff on WCAG 2.0. Why?

Many features that make a website accessible are baked into its code so it’s important for developers to understand why accessibility is important. It helped everyone to hear developers ask questions about topics such as accessible HTML code, appropriate header usage, input focus, and other issues some our non-technical attendees couldn’t quite articulate in full detail.

With hands-on exercises and live demonstrations, Billy Gregory helped illuminate accessibility for all of us. He emphasized real, human stories about accessibility, and how the scope of accessibility and disability isn’t always obvious. For example, a mother holding her newborn baby, someone typing on a computer with a broken arm in a cast, or a user prone to migraines are all temporarily disabled.

The need to make technology more accessible often arises out of legal concerns. What some companies might not realize is that having an accessible website helps visual or hearing impaired individuals access your content but also boosts your search engine optimization for organic searches. The alt-tags on your images, for instance, can improve your ranking on Google.  Additionally,  companies can also save resources when developers understand accessibility: it leads to fewer issues in audits and greater cohesion between designers and developers.

Accessibility isn’t only about helping people with disabilities to use technology. Ultimately, it’s a universal aim that helps us build products that are intuitive for everyone.