Accessibility for Everyone – Interview with Laura Kalbag
We speak to Laura Kalbag about her upcoming book Accessibility for Everyone and learn more about how each one of us can make our products more accessible.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a designer from the UK, currently living in Sweden. At Ind.ie, my partner and I make a web privacy tool for Mac and iOS called Better, which is part of our work for social justice in the digital age.
What is your definition of ‘accessibility’?
Accessibility means making a product available to as many people as possible. Many people use it to specifically refer to making a product usable by people with disabilities and, often more specifically when it comes to technology, using assistive technologies.
I would include people with disabilities in my definition, but I also think it’s important to note that when you design inclusively, you make a product easier to use for more and more people.
Some of our most basic goals for accessibility—make our product easy to see, hear, understand, and interact with—are usability considerations.
What is Accessibility for Everyone about?
Accessibility For Everyone is an introduction to web accessibility. It explains who could benefit from better accessibility, how to get started making websites more accessible, and other areas such as researching, testing, and the legal side of accessibility.
Who should buy the book and why?
The book is aimed at people who make websites, but it may also be useful to people designing any kind of digital products.
Accessibility is a cross-discipline concern, and needs team collaboration to ensure one person’s work does not undermine the accessibility of another person’s work.
People should buy the book if they are new to accessibility, or are looking to fill the gaps in their knowledge. It also points people to further resources where they can keep learning more from industry experts.
What do you see as the biggest challenges getting accessibility thinking into businesses?
The biggest challenge getting people to consider accessibility is to break the existing myths around accessibility. The myth I find most prevalent is that improvements to accessibility only help a small number of people.
We just don’t have global or local statistics that can account for every person with an impairment, the nature of their needs, and how it affects their use of digital products.
Even looking at the statistics we have on people with registered disabilities, these don’t take into account our ageing populations, people with changing needs, and stress cases that make our everyday use of technology more extraordinary.
For more on stress cases, I would really recommend Sara Wachter-Boettcher and Eric Meyer’s Design For Real Life.
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What are the main challenges testing products with people with accessibility needs?
The main challenge testing products with people with accessibility needs is that people don’t do it! Other difficulties can occur when people assume that one person with a disability is representative of all people with disabilities, or all people with that named disability.
Every one of us uses technology in a different way. We each use different hardware inputs and outputs in differing combinations, in a wide range of environments. In order for our products to be more inclusive, we have to embrace our diversity.
What are some quick tips you would give to help improve accessibility on a product?
Focus on the usability goals I mentioned earlier. We all want to make our products easy to use, but what about the physical movement required to interact with it? Maybe make the hit areas on your interface larger, so they require less precise mouse/finger movement.
Is your product easy to understand? Avoid jargon and complex metaphors in your language.
Is your product easy to see? Choose a colour palette with a high contrast between background and text.
Is your product easy to hear? Provide captions for videos.
There are so many more examples of solutions for common difficulties, the most important thing is that you’re willing to look for them, and to research and test with people whose needs may differ from your own.
What are the accessibility considerations when a service has both physical and digital components?
When a service has both online and offline components (or physical/digital, or any form of multiple presentation) we should be first assessing potential accessibility issues in the use of the individual components. But then it is also important to examine how people might use the components together, or one as the alternative to the other.
For example, I am working on an audiobook version of Accessibility For Everyone. People reading audiobooks rely on all of the content being available as audio. This means I have to consider how visual elements such as images or code formatting can be presented in audio.
It’s likely people will use the audiobook without having read the paperback or ebook, so I can rely on those for reference material. Some people may prefer to use the ebook to accompany the audiobook, so I shouldn’t vary the content between the two formats so much that they are no longer useful together.
What is the ‘Ethical Design Manifesto’?
The Ethical Design Manifesto is a framework for building technology that respects human rights, human effort, and human experience.
Unfortunately mainstream technology has become very good at making products usable (respecting human effort) and enjoyable (respecting human experience) but horrible at respecting human rights.
This results in “surveillance capitalism:” business models that purposefully addict us, and manipulate our behaviour in order to farm us for our personal information.
The Ethical Design Manifesto focuses on making the core of our products respectful to the needs of us as individuals, and society as a whole, rather than fast growth for corporations and lots of cash for a few rich white men.
Do you recommend any good resources for those looking to understand more about accessibility?
Start with my book, Accessibility For Everyone! It’s out at the end of September.
The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a very valuable resource. I like to follow a lot of accessibility experts on Twitter, and read their blogs.
Two very prolific writers are Léonie Watson and Heydon Pickering.
Laura posts links to @indie on Twitter most weekdays, focusing on technology and ethical design. Ind.ie’s app is called Better Blocker and it is available for Safari on iPhone, iPad, and Mac