My first project at AVI was a complex software program that handled in-home patient care. Different homecare staff would log their activities into the system. The software had to adhere to several government requirements, because it was part of a regulated industry. And one of those regulations required the software to be Section 508-compliant.
Among other things, Section 508 compliance requires that blind users be able to use the software, no matter where they are in the software. They need to be able to do everything that a sighted person can do.
It’s a very challenging requirement to fulfill, and building accessible software makes a lot of people anxious. But before long, I had become a big believer in accessibility. Here are four great reasons to love developing accessible programs.
Simpler, more efficient software
The software we were developing was a very complex program even without taking accessibility into account. To make the application usable for blind people, we realized the approach we had to take was to simplify the users’ paths as much as possible.
It’s a cliche, but sometimes less really is more. It’s often tempting to tend add functionality upon functionality to a program, but in this case we purposefully kept the functionality simple to enhance the usability.
And because the best way to control an environment is to simplify it, the application was a more efficient program. Rather than being a developer’s nightmare, the accessibility requirements helped keep the software lean and robust.
Easier for everyone to use
Applying accessibility standards even improved the overall program for users without disabilities. Accessible best practices benefit everyone. Just as people without hearing impairments often use closed captioning to enhance their viewing experiences, sighted users benefit from vision-related accessible software. For example:
- Blind users need to be able to complete every task using a keyboard instead of a mouse.
- A screen reading device needs to be able to read everything on the screen for the blind user.
- Color blind users need to be able to easily read and interpret the UI.
In each of these cases, the program becomes more usable for sighted users as well:
- Keyboard-enhanced functionality makes it possible to do certain functions more quickly by typing and tabbing through the interface.
- The code that makes screen reading possible also enhances SEO (for websites) and ensures that information architecture makes logistical sense.
- Color-blind-friendly UIs ensure that text is high-contrast and easy to read, no matter who you are.
- Speech-to-text data input is an option for everyone, making voice memos and automated transcription an option for everyone.
Accessible apps are more intuitive because they need to be easily interpreted by screen readers. So everyone benefits by a more intuitive interface that requires less mental power to interpret and use.
When you have every user in mind, you’re actually developing a better program overall.
A more attractive UI
Many developers believe that accessible software is ugly software. But in our case, the software was actually more visually appealing, because it became cleaner and the colors were more attractive. The elements on the UI were more legible and simplified. So accessibility can actually help enhance the visual appeal of your programs.
On the contrary, I don’t necessarily think that just because something looks beautiful, that it actually functions beautifully or is beautifully made in the long run. Beautiful design and functionality go hand-in-hand, and if an app isn’t accessible, it isn’t functional either.
Anything that’s visually appealing should congruently be accessible—accessibility and aesthetics complement each other.
Section 508 compliance pays
Several laws require software applications to be fully accessible. Even in cases where it’s not a legal requirement, expensive and very public lawsuits are being filed by persons with disabilities who are unable to use inaccessible websites and software.
It’s in every company’s best interests to make sure that your software is accessible to users with disabilities.
Developers need to build accessibility into every project. It may not be a requirement for other software companies, but AVI supports accessibility. It’s something that our engineers keep in mind as they develop their applications, because it improves our overall strategy in the way that we engineer and architect software.
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