Making Accessibility A Priority: Tech Tools For Full Inclusion

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a major law that fundamentally transformed the lives of people living with disabilities and opened numerous doors in favor of greater independence. Today the development of the tech sector makes creating the conditions for broad based accessibility easier than ever, yet many businesses still struggle with accessibility issues. It’s time for something to change.

Making your business more accessible doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult, and greater accessibility will only benefit your business, aiding both disabled and able-bodied customers. After all, whether on the web or in real life, good design is good design. Here are three tips and tools that can help your business achieve greater inclusion for all. Some steps require tech assistance, but others just require bringing a critical eye to accessibility problems.

Check Out Your Website

There are plenty of simple steps you can take to improve website accessibility, such as making sure all hyperlinks are at least three words long. This makes it easier for people with limited dexterity to accurately click the link and also makes the link easier for everyone to see. It’s easy to skim past a link when reading quickly, but larger linked sections stand out much more.

There are also simple programs that can help you identify website problems. One of these, Visicheck, reveals what your website looks like to colorblind users. Since 8% of men are colorblind, using color elements as part of your website’s communication can create a barrier to access.

Finally, when entering sensitive information or submitting an order, does your website use CAPTCHAS? CAPTCHAS are generally understood as a security method to prevent bots from spamming a website; unfortunately, even those of us with sharp vision can have a difficult time with these bits of tangled text. Audio CAPTCHAS, often seen as the accessible alternative, often aren’t much better in terms of use. If possible, eliminate CAPTCHAS and the barrier to site use they represent for everyone.

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Consider Customer Support

Customer support programs are often based on simple scripts that are meant to troubleshoot problems, and most of the time this works just fine. But often when customer support practices fail disabled patrons, it’s because these scripts contain assumptions about the customer. These can create a greater barrier when the customer support person can’t find a way to successfully deviate from the script.

What are the primary customer support conversations your business has? When faced with a malfunctioning device or a difficult to navigate website, does your script require visual cues to be successfully executed? Are there details you ask customers to look for or pieces of equipment you expect them to inspect? This strategy won’t succeed with blind or visually impaired customers, or even with customers who lack the technical expertise to identify computer parts successfully. Your average user may know their sound isn’t working, but may not be able to find the audio jack. Being able to adapt these practices to a range of customer limitations, then, is vital.

If visual inspection is the first step to a script, consider this quick fix: rather than jumping to the inspection step, ask customers whether they are able to inspect the component in question. Then, be prepared with the next steps if they say they aren’t able to for any reason. You can script creative problem solving if you begin to conceptualize your audience differently. This allows you to get customer interactions right the first time, a factor that will help you to build loyalty across communities. We’ve all had terrible customer service experiences, no matter what our needs, and preventing such situations is just good practice.

TTY Now

The internet acronym TTYL – talk to you later – takes on a whole new meaning when you consider it from the perspective of deaf or hard of hearing customers. Many people with hearing impairments use TTY systems for what would otherwise be a phone conversation. Unfortunately, many companies don’t provide a TTY number for customer service interactions. While customers can use a relay service to resolve this issue, this places the burden on your client – never a good move.

Instead, it’s time that businesses get on board with TTY systems – now, not later. Or, if you don’t want to invest in an unfamiliar technology, try Skype. Skype offers a text chat option, allowing hearing impaired people to communicate textually. Skype even has the additional bonus of allowing the operator to show images and perform screen share operations to supplement the text chat. As a bonus, Skype is free, most people use it, and younger users are always more likely to interact with customer service representatives if they can do it through an instant message or text format rather than over the phone.

Keep It Simple

In many ways, although technology has enhanced some forms of accessibility, it has produced other barriers to access for all users. When implementing a new policy or practice, stop to ask yourself whether the system is necessary, if it could be simpler, and what obvious barriers it might present. Anything you can identify as a potential problem should be changed, because if you can spot one problem, your user base will be able to spot a dozen more.

Most importantly, always be receptive to hearing about barriers to accessing your business. The disabled community is used to being inconvenienced and excluded, and will often give up and go elsewhere, rather than deal with resistant staff. Often, so will frustrated non-disabled customers. Simply put, no one likes to be inconveniences by the service sector. By being receptive to complaints, you’ll gain a reputation for putting user needs first, and word will travel fast.

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