People with disabilities want to be independent; they want to do things for themselves by themselves. This is a fundamental issue of human dignity, which is enshrined and enacted in good corporate responsibility and legislation and also enabled as good business practice. Disabled people may be amongst your staff and will be an increasingly large proportion of your client base too.
Good ‘accessible’ Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems can open up new possibilities and opportunities for people with disabilities, because they build in facilities that enable such people to use the systems independently. ICT systems which do not build in these ‘accessibility’ factors will cause enormous frustration because they cannot be simply used by disabled people on their own, as independent human beings.
Well designed systems will not only attract the one in seven of the population who are registered disabled but also the 50% of the population who are challenged in less severe ways (such as colour blindness, dyslexia or mild Parkinson’s Disease).
Disabled people will often use assistive technology, such as a screen reader or a modified mouse. These ‘add-ons’ help but are rarely a complete solution. Systems work best when they are specifically designed for able and disabled people, using and positively supporting ‘accessible’ technologies.
Most ICT systems and websites are not fully accessible. This is not because the designers have wilfully discriminated against people with disabilities, but because accessibility does not happen automatically; it needs the active support of all levels of management and ICT.
The benefits that an organisation will derive from implementing accessibility can be summarised as:
- Social: all organisations have corporate social responsibilities; supporting the requirements of disabled customers and staff is one of the key responsibilities. This is implemented through systems being inclusive.
- Financial: increased revenue will emerge from a broader client base, not just people with disabilities but also ethically driven consumers and the mildly challenged. Reduced cost will emerge from increased productivity of staff, both disabled and able. Finally, cost of sales will be reduced by automated accessible customer support.
- Legal: there is a legal requirement to avoid discrimination against the disabled by developing accessible systems. Such discrimination may be identified as the lack of provision of appropriate ICT solutions.
Accessibility and usability are closely related subjects and should be considered together. In general, good accessibility design will ensure ease of use and good usability design will assist accessibility.
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