By Frances West
When we hear the word “accessibility,” most people assume it has to do with providing equal access to people with disabilities.
But accessibility is much broader in scope and has become a societal issue that can impact us all.
Today, creating an inclusive, accessible world is about meeting the broad range of individual human needs so that everyone – including people with disabilities, the aging population, novice technology users, and people with language, learning and literacy challenges – can live to the best of their ability.
And it’s smart business, too. Accessible technology systems enable differentiated customer experiences for every user on any device – anytime and anywhere – and create a competitive advantage for those businesses deploying them.
Traditionally, companies have addressed accessibility mainly from a compliance standpoint – ensuring they meet government legislation and regulation. And while organizations still have work to do in this area, they are also faced with increased demands from the variety of customer segments for intuitive, adaptive and accessible technology.
The myriad unique skills, abilities and aptitudes of our global population becomes even more pronounced as technology enables an increasingly interconnected planet. But for all its advantages, globalization has also put the spotlight on the decades-old (and growing) digital access and usability gap.
As a result, creating accessible technology solutions to eliminate barriers and make daily routines more manageable has become an ever-increasing challenge – and opportunity.
Multiple forces, especially mobile, are driving demand for usability and accessibility. For instance, many banks are reducing the number of branch tellers and shifting more interactions to the mobile device. This creates new obstacles for both banks and their customers. It compels banks to design applications to focus more on designing applications that are customer-centric and easy to use, while at the same time, pressuring certain customers, such as the elderly, to learn an entirely new way of communicating.
Studies show that traditional design only delivers an optimized experience for 21 percent of the population. When the vast majority of users are having subpar experiences, it’s time to create more intuitive technologies that address the needs and capabilities of everyone. Approached holistically, accessibility provides businesses with a measurable return on investment, resulting in more effective personal interactions, increased user satisfaction, and an expanded market reach.
For nearly 100 years, IBM has been committed to advancing accessibility to deliver intuitive and personalized technology that places individuals’ abilities, behaviors, cultural backgrounds, habits, interests and needs at the center of the design and development process. Some of these inventions include the first Braille printer, a talking typewriter for people who are blind, a talking display terminal, and the AbilityLab Media Captioner and Editor.
IBM recently received a CIO 100 Award for the Media Captioner and Editor, which enables companies to easily caption and transcribe audio and video content in a matter of hours. For example, a global manufacturer might have an extensive media library of internal executive videos or training videos that need to be distributed worldwide. Often, an employee might not understand the language or the accent of the person speaking. In other instances, an employee may be deaf or be hard of hearing. By quickly captioning the content, the organization reduces costs, creates a more collaborative and inclusive organization and complies with accessibility laws and regulations that exist in many countries worldwide.
Solutions like Media Captioner and Editor help transform the technology landscape and provide people with unprecedented access to information.
Moving forward, IBM will continue to take a human-centric approach to technology design and focus on everyone’s information consumption patterns in order to enhance shopping experiences, visits to the doctor, or trips abroad.
By integrating accessibility from the outset into the overall infrastructure, we can increase bottom-line value for IBM and its clients and help ensure that any employee, constituent or customer – regardless of ability or disability – can immediately be a productive and active participant in society.