ChainReact Recap - Accessibility

14 July 2019

Accessibility was one of the hot topics at ChainReact this year. And to be honest, it's a topic that should be at every conference until we start doing accessibility well. During one of the talks the speaker mentioned the Curb-Cut Effect which is the main prompt for this post. Simply put, the Curb-Cut Effect is the name given to the idea that making places accessible to the disabled helps everyone.

The discovery started with 'curb cuts' which are the slopes or ramps that allow wheelchairs to access sidewalks, most often at intersections. While the most public effort to make those ramps common place was pioneered by a person named Michael Pachovas and his associates in the 70s, they gained wide adoption because of how many non-disabled persons benefited from them. A person pushing a child in a stroller, a laborer or delivery person moving heavy items in a cart, or the average city person towing their luggage to a bus or train stop would go out of their way to use these curb cuts instead of trying to go up and over the curb edge. Some studies have actually shown that non-disabled persons will go out of their way to use these curb cuts even when they have no obvious need.

Closed captions for television shows and movies are another change that targets disabled persons but benefits all. While they provide the ability for the hard of hearing and deaf to follow along in an otherwise auditory experience, they also allow my wife and I to watch a show without having to turn up the volume when people (in the show) are whispering or talking with a heavy accent or when my dogs decide to start loudly running laps around my couch. Many bars, gyms, offices and others use closed captioning so patrons can follow along on multiple televisions when the audio would negatively affect the environment. Because closed captioning required the digitization of transcripts it opened a world of archival and data mining to find relevant material when needed.

When you're designing your app and rushing to get it released please don't forget accessibility. You may discover that in an attempt to make a color blind friendly UI, adding your ARIA attributes, etc, that you improve the overall quality of your app by removing or refactoring items that may have been complicated or unnecessary in nonobvious ways.