Designing products to be usable by more people in a wider range of situations is not an easy task and it does not happen automatically. If developers do not have a comprehensive grasp on the range of limitations different people with various disabilities face and how to overcome them in a practical level, its doubtful that the end result will be accessible.
Adding accessibility is much easier when it is considered and included right from the start of a project. The best way to add accessible features is to integrate them into the standard design and not to add them as a layer over the top or off to the side.
Allow people with a disability entry via the front door, just like everyone else, so to speak, don’t shunt them round the back entrance and up through the service elevator.
Shawn Henry is an accessibility expert and her book, “Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design” provides an easy to read, structured and practical guide on how to design products with accessibility in mind.
The section that focus on the design phase is particularly useful as an introduction – she does recommend employing an accessibility expert where possible and to make sure that everyone working on the project is familiar with common accessibility issues – but before reaching the conclusion that adding accessibility to your product is too costly, time consuming or complicated, read this chapter at the very least. It is available on-line here and illustrates that adding some accessibility is not that hard.
If you want to make a product work well for more people, her book starts with one clear guiding principle: Just ask people with disabilities. Accessibility isn’t and shouldn’t be an abstract concept removed from the people who use your product. It isn’t about meeting standards, although obviously complying with legislation is important, it’s about making something that more people can use in many different ways.
Start with the basics. Incorporate accessibility into product design each step of the way right from the start. Involve people with different disabilities and ask them to show you what works for them and then ask for feedback on your product. Interact with them in a positive way and don’t forget that people with disabilities are just as different from each other as people without a disability. She even provides a short guide on how to interact comfortably with people with disabilities.
The book is available on-line for free here. It is also available in paperback from Amazon. If you are looking for a good place to start learning about how to add accessibility to your product, this is it.