This is the last of three articles about our journey growing a culture of accessibility at Trade Me. For tips on getting started, see ‘Growing a culture of accessibility at Trade Me’ or ‘Shifting the mindset on accessibility at Trade Me’.
Making the case for accessibility is the most challenging part of the process. We believe there are three main levels that require change for this to happen—getting your peers on board, changing the way your team works, and finally changing your organisation’s systems and processes.
We’re still making our way through the first two levels, so we’ll focus on sharing tips and resources to empower you and your peers to start making the case for accessibility in your own workplaces.
Making the case once
Accessibility is closely related to general usability. We all know the importance of following usability standards to ensure a good experience for users, but it hasn’t always been like this. We’ve come a long way on incorporating usability research into product development processes. If standards and research are done well, it not only guarantees a better experience but also brings many accessibility gains.
"If standards and research are done well, it not only guarantees a better experience but also brings many accessibility gains."
The converse is also true. A stronger focus on accessibility helps us to improve the usability of our products for all of our customers, which can also increase the chances of commercial success.
Examples of areas where usability and accessibility overlap:
- Primary information should mostly be placed higher on your page — this ensures your users can find information quicker and enables users with cognitive disabilities to find what they’re looking for.
- Be careful when designing mega menus — this research by the Nielsen Norman Group provides some good guidelines on how to make your hover menus friendly for users with motor disabilities.
- Recognition rather than recall — this is one of Nielsen’s heuristics and it applies for any element on a page. Buttons and icons that trigger actions should perform what they’re expected to do, minimising users’ memory load.
- The tab order should follow the order in which you organise your content — this means the information is easily digested by your users and they’re also able to navigate using a keyboard.
- Give control over actions — infinite scrolling is a good example of a feature that can work well depending on the main objective of the website, but can also get in the way of users trying to perform an action at the bottom of a page.
Incorporating accessibility into the process
We work in an Agile environment, where we often measure how much time we’ll spend on a task and when we’ll deliver our cases based on the team’s overall speed. If we consider that different employees within a team have different skill levels, and that knowledge around building accessible products is still growing, this could be seen as extra work and be deprioritised. But how can we work around this?
In their talk ‘Design is [equitable]’, Google researchers Nithya Sambasivan and Jen Devis provide a toolkit for applying accessibility to actual workflows. They recommend introducing accessibility concerns to well-established practices in each stage of product development. If you’re a designer and your team has a strong design review process, for example, try introducing questions such as:
- Have you considered colour contrast?
- Have you thought about keyboard navigation?
- Is this flow easy and intuitive?
This is also a good way of understanding if you’re solving the right problems. We found that having users with a wide range of abilities as part of our user research helped to inform what had to be done and avoid bigger problems down the track.
Solve for one, extend to many
By including people with disabilities at the beginning of our creative processes, we can build products that can benefit everyone. This is what we call “The Curb Cut Effect”.
A good explanation of this effect is one of Microsoft’s Inclusive Design principles — “Solve for one, extend to many”. It defends the idea that if we remove usability barriers and aim to make products accessible for people with permanent disabilities, it’s likely these same products will be able to be used by those with temporary and situational disabilities.
One of my favourite examples of this principle is Fingerworks. It was created by Wayne Westerman, who had carpal tunnel syndrome, and was a way of interacting with a computer that requires no force in the hand. The technology was later sold to Apple and helped them create the first generation of iPhones.
Accessibility drives innovation
Inclusive design offers an opportunity for any business to respond to customer needs in innovative ways and gain a competitive advantage.
When we start projects by considering the needs of excluded communities, we’re presented with constraints that need to be overcome, and these can spark discussions around innovative ways of solving a problem. Addressing these constraints early on also prevents the high costs of retrofitting inclusion into your product.
One way of adding new perspectives to problem solving is to have a diverse team involved in your discovery process. Present your developers, testers and product managers with inclusive design methodologies to guide their thinking.
A good exercise for the discovery process is the “Black Mirror brainstorm*” by Joshua Maudlin. Think about all the things that could go wrong in the interaction you’re creating. Who are you excluding?
When people with different backgrounds and needs come together to work on a solution for a problem, biases and new kinds of expertise are combined. By applying new lenses to the same processes, we can include different mental models and create more inclusive and innovative products.
At Trade Me, the more people start including accessibility in their thinking, the more we’re able to tackle many sides of a problem at once.
Together with Access Advisors, we’re in the process of organising a series of usability testing sessions with people who have a wide range of abilities. We’re hoping this will become a regular occurrence, and that we can also include a more representative number of people with disabilities into all of our usability testing.
There’s still a lot to be done as we work towards a more inclusive Trade Me, and there’s definitely a lot to learn. By shifting our lens from creating a product to creating human interactions, we’ll be able to understand how we interact with each other and with the world around us. This is how we begin to break the cycle of exclusion.
"By shifting our lens from creating a product to creating human interactions, we’ll be able to understand how we interact with each other and with the world around us."
We all gain abilities throughout the course of our lives, and those abilities are constantly changing. We’re all disabled in many contexts and circumstances.
More and more, we’ve been able to change our mindset from ‘accessibility as a feature’, to ‘this is the way we do things at Trade Me’. A future where we offer multiple ways for all Kiwis to use and enjoy our products and services is something we really look forward to. Accessibility is all about people — and so is Trade Me.
. . .
*We decided to preserve the original name of the exercise, but we acknowledge the term “brainstorm” is offensive for some people. If you’re interested in understanding this better, the Epilepsy society shared some important research on terminology.
. . .
Many thanks to Maz Hermon, Zsuzsa Vadasz, Madeleine Diver, Mark Huser, Denny Ford and Rachel Radford.
Originally posted on Maria's Medium page.