Disability in tech: A checklist to get your sh*t together
By Sarina | UX Design, October 22, 2021
Note: All views are my own and do not reflect or represent my employer.
Did you know that 15% of the world’s population (that’s about 1 billion people!) live with disabilities? People with disabilities are the world’s largest minority group, and in case you didn’t realize by now, this also exists for many people in the tech world — including me.
As a Product Designer with an invisible disability: non-verbal learning and dyslexia — or as I originally spelt it deslexysa (shoutout to my co-author, Row, for correcting this spelling mistake along with all the others…also how ironic is it that they expect people with a learning disability to spell a word like that?!) Okay back to the point. Like every designer, I dream of making the digital world a better place where accessibility is (drum roll please)…accessible!
This year I’ve decided to try something new. I’m going to be unapologetically myself and share the truth about working as a neurodivergent product designer in tech. Not only because I know what it’s like to spend quadruple the amount of time it takes to read a document compared to my colleagues, and not because I’m trying to be *that person* who calls out tech companies for being ableist, BUT because I love my job and I love this field and want to see it truly be better and more inclusive. Yes, this means doing more than virtue signalling a weak company accessibility statement created by a bunch of white-abled folks.
I am writing this as both a love letter and an action list to all who are ready to check their biases at the door. So stick around because we’re going to dive into discomfort together.
Action Item 1: Put people with disabilities in a position of leadership
Let’s start at the top with Hiring Committees and Human Resources. Oftentimes, job postings state that they welcome candidates from diverse, multicultural and inclusive backgrounds. However, things such as the application, the job portal and the language used are inaccessible. This leaves people with disabilities out of the hiring pool.
It is no longer enough to hire people who are disability-identified or #Allies. To create systemic change you must put people with marginalized identities and disabilities at the top of leadership. Their knowledge and lived experiences with inaccessibility and oppression are important. You said in your latest job posting that your company values diversity — so let’s see it. There are currently lots of diversity hires but let’s be real — the org chart still looks mighty white and abled when we look at who’s sitting at the top. And don’t forget that just because you’re hiring for diversity doesn’t mean you’re hiring for disability. They are not the same thing and you’re ableist if you think they are.
Action Item 2: Get the whole company jumping on the accessibility bandwagon
Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility! Did you know that 6.2 million Canadians — almost 22% of the population, live with some form of disability?? And what about the century-old story about how Domino’s pizza got sued for big bucks because their website was inaccessible?
Let me remind you that accessibility is everyone’s responsibility.
I am not only talking about the users who use your product — but also the employees who ship, build, manage and sell your digital products. Everyone has a unique accessibility need and you certainly don’t have to have a chronic or visible disability to receive accommodations.
Let’s take a look at this pandemic. Okay yes, during COVID, technology has made things like virtual meetings somewhat more accessible. However, with the rapid need for technology and companies feeling the pressure to release MVP’s (Most Viable Product), they often exclude accessible experiences.
So I’ll tell you a little secret — The 3 A’s. When employees and users see a company who puts time and effort into 1. Adaptation, 2. Accommodation and 3. Accessibility, they will notice that…
- Employees become happier (woohoo)!
- New hires are committed to implementing true inclusion practices
- Products are designed to their full potential for all
- There is an increased value and satisfaction from customers and users
- Which ultimately leads to momentum in the right, just, and accessible direction!
When management and companies put these 3 A’s at the forefront of their mandate and values, both employees and customers benefit. The momentum for success is propelled forward through product design, employee satisfaction, and equitable practices, which foster a more creative and user-friendly experience. Wait, so does practicing the 3 A’s mean it’s a win-win for all of us? Hell yeah, it does!
Need inspiration? Here is an article on how you can Build an Inclusive and Accessible Workplace for Those With Disabilities… and Everyone Else, Too (Part II)
Action Item 3: Get your product in the hands of disability-identified people and not just one!
If you do not make the time to test, include and share your product with people with disabilities, then you do not value accessibility.
You can follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) all you want… but if you choose to not take the time to test the implementations by real users, then what you are exhibiting is a lack of care to make time for the people who can help you make your products more accessible. So although we “care” to make the apps “accessible” by following these industry guidelines, are we ACTUALLY caring if we’re not properly testing these implementations?
It’s not too late!
There are a number of free resources on how you can test your products effectively to make them accessible and who to approach for guidance. Considering that there are hundreds of different beautiful disabilities in this universe, you can’t ask just one disabled person to test out your products. It’s demeaning, tokenizing, and does not offer you a reliable sample group to represent the disability community.
So what do you do now?
Well, you already know what to do! I just gave you three solid ways that you can approach your work ethics, product design and implementation to help improve your company. Ableism and inaccessibility hurts both your employees and users, and further marginalizes one of the most forgotten and oppressed groups in this society. If you’ve read this far and still decide to not support disability in tech, then all I have to say is — your insensitivity and ableism are showing. Sorry not sorry. 🙃
The bare minimum you can do is listen to disability justice communities, become educated about accessibility, and uplift the voices of your disability-identified peers in tech. Do not discount our professional and lived experiences working with a disability. There’s more of us in this industry than you probably realize.
P.S. Please stop using acronyms. No one knows what you’re saying and it takes too much of my brainpower to figure it out.
If you want to know more — which you obviously do — then check out the resources and tech professionals below who have been influential in shaping conversations and ideas about disability in tech.
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Link to Original Article: https://uxdesign.cc/disability-in-tech-a-checklist-to-get-your-sh-t-together-5682112b1234