By Frances West
Accessibility that is grounded in a company’s values can bridge individual differences, better connect with customers, enable a diverse pool of talent in the workplace, and improve the standard of living for all members of society.
It also creates context-driven systems that understand everyone’s information consumption patterns so people of all abilities have a personalized user experience on any device, as well as increased access to timely, logically relevant and useful information to make routines, interactions, and decisions easier and more intuitive.
This is why accessibility has become so critical for commercial and government organizations around the world. With more than 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide, including the rapidly growing aging population, demand for accessibility continues to increase, making it a mainstream requirement to optimize communications, differentiate service offerings and personalize interactions.
In fact, Gartner believes that by 2015, 50 percent of organizations will have technology projects underway that support the enablement of disabled people in the workplace to address compliance, and help develop more productive endpoint solutions.
Business and IT leaders need to understand that poorly designed customer-facing business processes, services and applications can create barriers for people with disabilities and realize that – on the other hand — accessibility delivers more usability and productivity to improve the overall user experience for the mass market.
One study found that 94 percent of people cite website design as a reason they do not trust an organization, while another study says that 42 percent of consumers abandon their transactions when they experience online road blocks or simply switch to a competitor – equating to billions, if not trillions, in lost revenue per year.
Placing accessibility at the forefront of the design and development process ensures that all customer segments have more personal and adaptive experiences. For these reasons IBM has made accessibility an integral function of its design thinking, helping designers develop a real empathy for users and a deeper understanding of how physical, cognitive and situational disabilities affect the use of a product.
Not only is accessibility one of the key ingredients to any good product design, but it accelerates deployment, reduces expenses and creates a more intimate relationship with how customers interact with a product or service. Therefore, accessibility and usability are one in the same.
By prioritizing technology access for people with disabilities, organizations have a better understanding of the full spectrum of human needs to deliver personalized experiences through any customer contact point – on a website, mobile device or with customer service agents. But even more importantly, accessibility helps organizations understand all customers in context – preferences, habits, social interactions, abilities and environment – to help deliver personally relevant and rewarding experiences for the masses. Accessibility not only makes lives easier for the most challenged individuals, but it creates a more pleasant experience for everyone.
Think about someone navigating a city using a mobile device. By intimately knowing the user, an application can be tailored to help people better understand their surroundings and provide appropriate routes and points of interest based on physical abilities and accommodations. It can also suggest activities people might like to do based on their individual hobbies or social interests.
Therefore, as the widespread creation, availability and use of accessible technology increases, we have a unique opportunity to transform not only the way we do business, but our society as a whole.
Learn more about the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center, which works to establish IT accessibility standards, shape government policies, and develop human-centric technology and industry solutions so that all people reach their highest potential in work and life.