A leak from Apple showed the iOS 13’s greatest leap forward for accessibility in design – being able to use voice to control every function of the device. XBOX is paving the way for accessible design in gaming with their adaptive controller. And now movie theatres are offering accessible movie nights for kids with autism.
These are just a few examples from the new push to create accessible design everywhere in our world. During this time in America where acceptance and tolerance of others are few and far between in the media, I find so much joy in announcements and technologies like these. Why? Because all of these advances are rooted in empathy.
Eve Andersson, the Director of Accessibility Engineering at Google says, “To build technology that is accessible to everyone, we have to understand what makes certain products inaccessible in the first place.”
Those who are able-bodied (aka those who dominate the vast majority of industries) hold a privilege compared to persons with a physical disability. To put it simply, someone who is able-bodied typically doesn’t need to worry about taking the stairs when the elevator is out, or opening a heavy door (ahem, the Apple store at University Village and your 50-foot monstrosity) that doesn’t have an automatic button, or even simply in the every day where a person with a disability may have to constantly monitor their pain levels.
When people who don’t typically have to worry about accessibility intentionally take a step back and create a space for those in the minority, they are practicing empathy and creating opportunities for incredible technological and societal advances that become more inclusive for everyone.
At Action Mary, we’ve seen technology companies like L2L radically change the culture of plant floors by designing information systems that are accessible to all employees. When everyone can see integrated data of what’s happening on the plant floor via tablets, it means that information is no longer inequitable. You don’t have to be in a position of power to make suggestions grounded in data, or to advocate for change. When hierarchical and exclusionary processes are dismantled, it creates space for everyone to not only be equal but to rise together. Again, it all comes back to inclusiveness and empathy.
There are so many nuances to everyday life that able-bodied people, myself included, take for granted. It is that mentality, that things come naturally to someone so they must be easy for everyone, that leads to inaccessibility in design. Take, for example, Starbucks’ strawless cups. Whatever your opinion is on that debacle, the reality is that for many people with a disability, those cups are inaccessible. Now, there is an added step for them to request a straw, hopefully, one that’s compostable.
If you think, ‘well that’s not so hard,’ I would encourage you to try to understand the tedium and exposure one with a disability must feel to be forced to take on an extra step, time and time again. In short, if design doesn’t affect you, but it hurts someone else, we should use our able-bodied privilege to support a more accessible design.
As the saying goes, “We can argue all you want, but I will not entertain a conversation where you are denying my basic human rights.” I actively encourage everyone to take a moment and be grateful for a design that creates ease in your everyday life and perhaps consider a design that could be refined in order to be more accessible, even if it requires you to make a small change in your life.