Design Soapbox: Accessibility

Accessibility LogoOver the past year I have been doing a lot of research and writing on technology accessibility.  It is a subject which is commonly misunderstood and often ignored.

What is accessibility and why is it important?

Many people associate the term accessibility with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.  The ADA, a broad civil rights law, established standards prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, specifically targeting equal opportunity employment and equal access to physical environments (, 2009).  The roots of accessibility, however, go deeper than that. 

In the broadest sense, accessibility is a feature of a product or environment reflecting its degree of usability. Usability is a measure of how effective that product or environment is at achieving user goals.  Consequently, that product or environment can be considered accessible if it can be used by everyone, including individual with disabilities.

In his book Accessibility for Everyone, author John Paul Mueller (2003) takes issue with the term “disability,” noting that the definition of the word, when dissected, literally means “not able”.  Instead, Mueller prefers to think of accessible design as a thoughtful solution for individuals with “special needs,” which has the capacity to en-able, rather than dis-able.  Furthermore, and central to the argument supported by his research, is the notion that accessibility benefits everyone, not just those with disabilities.

For example, although the redesign of sidewalks to include curb cuts was a special accommodation made for wheelchair access, people pushing strollers or riding bicycles also benefited.  These same types of universal benefits can be realized through the thoughtful design of information products, such as websites and other forms of new media.

Universal design is equitable, flexible, simple and intuitive.  My challenge as a designer is to create products that not only look great, but also work well.

Technology accessibility has grabbed my attention! I recognize this site is not 100% accessible, but as I learn more, I will continually refine its function and feel. I am not an accessibilty expert - merely spreading the word...

References (2009). ADA: Information and technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Retrieved June 30, 2009, from

Mueller, J.P. (2003). Accessibility for everyone: Understanding the section 508 accessibility requirements. New York: Apress.