Accessibility and inclusion – guiding points for product people

Following my recent interview with Jonathan Hassell at the Product Group London meetup, here are a few key takeaways from our chat (well, group discussion with c.70 product people) about accessibility and inclusive design – in particular focusing on what it is, why it’s important for product management and the next steps product people can take to embed it in their day-to-day work.

Accessibility and inclusion is about reaching the excluded 20%

As Jonathan put it: “Accessibility is usability for the people you normally forget”. It’s about making sure you reach the 20% who would otherwise be excluded from being able to use your products. For example, just implementing a button as a graphic with no text that a screen reader can read can lead users down a dead-end and ultimately lose you a customer today and maybe for life.

Jonathan’s approach to accessibility and inclusion is very much about treating it in the same way you would privacy and security – two areas that are now ingrained in the way teams develop, deliver and manage their products. And, as he was keen to point out, this means it should not be an onerous task.

It’s about pragmatic choices

Being a product manager means having to make trade-offs between cost to build, time to market, and completeness of product. This is the same with inclusive design. It’s not dogmatic, “you MUST do this”. It’s about understanding the opportunities and risks for your product and making choices.

For instance, an MVP might not have full accessibility because that might be require too much investment when you’re just testing a new concept. Also, some products are for niche audiences, so you may need to focus on certain impairments over others.

Designing inclusively is about recording those choices during design and development, and letting your customers know via your accessibility statement – this approach is about doing the right thing for all involved, as opposed to rigidly following compliance manuals regardless of the necessity.

So what can product people do to manage accessibility more effectively? Here are three simple and practical things Jonathan suggests you can do with your team and organisation:

1: Check how good you are – running a live audit of your current product

If you’ve already got a product in the works, then a live auditcan be a great way to check where your product is with accessibility – both the good and the bad. It’s about a day’s worth of time sitting alongside an accessibility expert in your offices following through a few customer journeys on your site or app as someone with a disability would, with the ability to ask questions, capture issues in your own tracking systems, and spread knowledge directly with your team. It’s a bit like ‘peer programming’ or a security penetration (PEN) test, but for accessibility.

2: Develop the benefits case for accessibility in your organisation

Another step is to better understand the benefits of digital accessibility, so you can get the focus and funding needed to start realising those benefits.

Looking at four major areas of financial benefits, customer experience, reputational impact, and innovation, you can start to find the benefits which are relevant to your organisation, and consider what will resonate with the personalities and culture in your business. For example, companies have found that embedding an inclusive design mindset across their organisation does more than just improve the customer experience of a website or mobile app, as it has positive impacts for example on recruitment, training, policy, and procurement.

3: Create an accessibility strategy for your product

Another thing to do, especially when your team is early in the development process, is to take practical steps to embed accessibility into the way the team works. Just like privacy and security, leaving accessibility to the end, and hoping it will be a ‘bolt-on’, can be expensive. It’s much more cost efficient to get it right, right from the start.

More information

Hopefully, this gives you a steer on the areas to focus on. Thanks again to Jonathan for joining our event, it was really insightful to have a world leader talk about such an important topic.

If you have any questions or would like to have a chat with Jonathan about accessibility and inclusive design please reach out to him via https://www.hassellinclusion.com/contact-us/.

Additionally, Jonathan’s team offers support to run a live audit of your products, and runs benefits of digital accessibility workshops to help organisations develop the business case for embedding accessibility and inclusion into business as usual.

He has a one day course on delivering accessible products that guides you through how to create and deliver an optimal accessibility strategy for your product, using case studies from real projects. I’d check it out…

Jonathan also has a recently published book, Inclusive Design for Products, which explains how use the ISO standard 30071-1 (which Jonathan led the creation of) to embed accessibility across your whole product development lifecycle. If you’d like a copy of the book, there will be a promotion in January 2020 – just sign-up for the Hassell Inclusion newsletter and they’ll send you the details.

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