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Real Accessibility Needs Co-Conspirators—Not Allies

By JP Spanbauer

When it comes to Accessibility, we’ve all heard the terms AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) and WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). We may even know how to describe them and to certain degree, be able to put them into practice. But Accessibility cannot be something we talk about as an add-on feature. It needs to be in the fabric of everything we do.

Looking back, we wouldn’t have thought that a lawsuit against a $5 pizza chain could be the catalyst for deeper human and user centricity.

Domino’s Pizza v. Guillermo Robles, was the initial case that brought accessibility out into the spotlight as something more than a personal moral goal of creators. The case was brought by Guillermo Robles, after being unable to order food from Dominos’ digital properties despite using screen-reading software.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court’s decision sided with Robles, writing that the “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.”

As news of the decision spread, there was an air of panic coming from some of our large clients. Companies that served millions of individuals may have to now “enhance” their standard offerings to provide equal access for everyone. Our perspective began to shift to what role we will need to play in this change.

Thinking of the internet, or any digital connected experience as a public accommodation, seems so simultaneously, novel and the bare minimum. Since the conception of our digital connected age, it’s become paramount that society embrace technology entirely or risk their own survival. And it’s not wrong. You now need access to get basic things like healthcare.

We’ve always believed and fought for a more inclusive approach. Sadly, it wasn’t a priority worth losing a pitch or your job over. Convincing customers of the value of accessibility was a talking point, but often went unheard. Arguments like:

  • It’s the morally right thing to do. When creating an experience, you have a responsibility to the potential users to create something that delivers the best experience.
  • By creating an experience that more people can use you have more potential customers in the funnel. Complete human-centricity creates a better experience for a brand and showcases brands in their best light.

Even internally, this topic yields great debates that makes logging into Zoom sometimes worth it. It usually starts with one individual who has crafted a stunning and on-brand experience that meets the brief, will wow the client, and generally has them pumped for presentation day. (This individual is an advocate for accessibility and has considered the known standards for the problem they had set out to solve.) Enter another voice and watch the debate begin over how a screen reader will interrupt this experience and navigate the complex tables painstakingly designed to pixel perfection.

At the very least, things are different now. We can start these conversations with “It’s the law". Even with legal precedent, some can still find it a bitter pill to swallow. So, the opportunity and battle ground to do more than the bare minimum is where we can come in.

Remember, a mobile first approach to a website was a completely radical idea not too long ago.

How can we shift the development of any digital product to become accessible first? Beyond colour contrast and meta tags, what will digital platforms look like in 5 years if we prioritize the experience for all humans from the first brief of a project?

Through debate and collaboration in an agile environment, teams are forced to invent new components and experiences far superior for every user to the original ableist expressions purposed or created.

Simply leaving accessibility as an afterthought or a bandage to cover a legal gap completely diminishes the positive returns that are enabled. We did not build a faster horse to cross the country we created new possibilities; accessibility can be that vehicle, if not for our industry, for society.

We must be co-conspirators to ableist systems because we can, and we must do and be better. Like shooting to the moon or combing the deepest oceans we are leaving remarkable opportunities for growth, both personal and business, completely unexplored simply because it hasn’t been done before.

For anyone interested in chatting, here are a few thought starters:

  • How can we reinvent layouts, navigations, even content to provide a universally shared experience for all users fundamentally?
  • Have you personally used a screen reader? Sit down, get comfortable and try to navigate as others do, explore in their shoes to better understand more users of your creations.
  • How can we tell a story that makes one’s ableness irrelevant?
  • As an industry, how do we educate and create empathy for all users while removing barriers and ableism? 
  • How do we make the “business case” for accessibility? What ROI can completely change our business focus and diversify our funnels?
  • What does it mean for brands to adopt inclusion in their strategy versus the exclusion of only their intended audiences?

We have a lot of listening and learning to do to continue expanding ourselves and our potential as creatives. Below are some pieces that have informed our point of view on accessibility. Maybe they’ll do the same for you.

Inclusive Design Patterns: Coding Accessibility into Web Design

The US Library > Books on Accessibility

The Truth about ROI of Web Accessibility

Accessibility offers an amazing opportunity

Accessible Escape Room

Accessibility Maze

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

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