At the Boston-IA first anniversary event on June 23, 2004, Mike Paciello spoke about making software applications more accessible. (Part 2 of 3.)
Mike Paciello, President of The Paciello Group (TPG) (www.paciellogroup.com) and international consultant, spoke at the Boston-IA first anniversary meeting on the topic "The Ramp to Accessible Software: Designing, Developing, and Testing for Online Accessibility".
Mike's message emphasized that making software applications accessible must begin right from the start, in the early planning stages, and continue throughout the product development process. It is much more difficult to make a design accessible later.
Consulting with users with disabilities early in the process also saves time and may result in changes to the initial design that are useful to all users.
Treating all disabled users as a single homogenous group will not make your product accessible. Mike illustrated his point by telling the story of a blind friend coping with a so-called accessible hotel room:
"Not only did my friend have to try his door-card in every direction, he also had to explore an extra-large room designed for people with mobility impairments. Someone had planned a room with extra space for disabled people in general, but the size of the room only increased the frustrations of exploring the room for someone like Brian, who is blind. Asking more questions and planning ahead of time leads to better designs, in this case, a smaller room with things in more predictable places."
Mike posed a challenge to IT vendors and service consultants to consider accessibility at every stage of development and testing. As with all good design, specific user needs should be considered and met throughout the process.
To help implement accessibility, Mike suggested the following guidelines:
Mike emphasized the importance of including users with disabilities throughout the planning process.
There should be accessibility checklists during each phase of the development and testing life cycle. Mike offered possible checklist items for the design of the following product elements:
Mike warned that at first there are project obstacles to overcome. Most companies and organizations do not have in-house accessibility expertise. Development, management, sales, and other departments that are part of the project development life cycle will need to receive accessibility education.
That education may be problematic, because industry standards are not yet specific, and formulas for determining accessibility are not fully developed. Also, validation tools are not yet as effective as they should be.
With over 54 million people with disabilities in the United States, and with Federal regulations such as Section 508 and Section 225 mandating accessibility compliance, there is a significant and increasing market for accessible design.
By incorporating accessibility throughout the product development lifecycle— from kickoff to sales— the resulting product may just end up being better for everyone, not just people with disabilities.
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