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Shifting the Mindset About Accessible Content

Focus on Personalizing the Data

12/15/2021 2:45:22 PM

Two people wearing masks. One person is pointing to an item with an X on a monitor. The other person is watching.

By: Samantha Fischer, Accessibility Coordinator, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

As the majority of information moves to digital formats across multiple platforms, it’s more important than ever to create and maintain accessible content.  As the Accessibility Coordinator for the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) I often have to explain why we need to create accessible content. While most people agree with the concept of digital accessibility, there are times where the demands of their daily tasks can compete for time to follow best practices. I can cite laws, introductions to understanding the guidelines and the state of Minnesota's accessibility policy. But personally, I’ve found this is more of a compliance mindset, instead of a mindset that fully embraces what they’ve learned about accessibility, and why it’s essential. This led me to the question: “How do we shift their mindset?” And the answer to that? “Make it personal.”

In this blog post, I compiled data that supports making it personal, to:  

  1. Show management the effect accessibility has on their bottom line.
  2. Show staff that creating accessible content will help reduce frustration for both the people we serve and document authors, and save time doing everyday tasks.

Share the Research

Paraphrasing ThinkCompany’s article “5 Reasons Why Prioritizing Web Accessibility is Good for Your Business”; incorporating accessibility at the start of a development or redesign process is significantly easier and less expensive than making improvements to existing content later, as a separate project. Don’t believe me? As noted in the W3C’s “Business Case for Accessibility,” Microsoft commissioned a Forrester Research Economic Impact Study,“ which found that implementing accessible web design minimizes the rate at which users abandon websites. This “results in an estimated additional $2.4 million in annual revenue for Microsoft.” Simply put, the more people that stay on your website, the more money you make.

Personally, I found the study fascinating, but admittedly, accessibility is my passion. One of the things I hope people pull from my rambling, also supported by the Forrester Study, is that creating accessible information from the start can and does cut down on frustration and time for the author of any given content. For those of us who administer programs, this means we will have less: 

  • work to redo. 
  • back and forth between customers because they filled out a form wrong. 
  • time on the phone trying to explain how to get somewhere on a website. 

We will have a whole lot more time for other tasks if we made sure our designs and structures are clear and easy to understand for the end user.

Define Accessible Content

What is “accessible content” you ask? I often tell co-workers accessible content means it’s POUR content. 

  • P = Perceivable 
  • O = Operable 
  • U = Understandable 
  • R = Robust.  

Simply put this means the majority of your audience is able to: 

  • perceive all information presented, 
  • operate all functions, 
  • understand not only the information presented but how to navigate it
  • and they can count on it working with assistive technology. 

Now, I get that this whole idea can be extremely overwhelming, especially for those who are just learning to use various applications. Accessible templates, quick cards and learning modules can all help. (Psssst…there are department-branded, accessible templates for Minnesota state employees. Not sure where they are? Ask your digital accessibility coordinator or IT staff)

Improve Communication with Your Audience

OK, now we know what accessible content is. Who are we creating it for?  Well, for starters, there are those with visible disabilities (i.e. people who use wheelchairs, those who are blind, people on crutches). But, consider these life situations where accessible content can be beneficial for: 

  • A person who wears glasses, or is experiencing vision changes that sometimes come with age, trying to read the very small, very light colored text on a website.
  • Parents who are multitasking, holding a child while trying to get information about an appointment from their smartphone. 
  • Someone who was injured in a car accident, has a broken leg and a concussion, and needs to apply online for temporary assistance.
  • A recent immigrant to the United States who understands only basic English, and is trying to find the nearest grocery store. 

The answer to all these situations is that accessibility benefits ALL of these people. 

Who does it benefit the most? Let’s break it down! I’m going to use data for the United States, since that’s where I’m located.

According to the 2020 Census, the population of the United States is 331,449,281 people. 

I haven’t even begun to list populations that have multiple disabilities, or have disabilities and have recently immigrated, or the various types of disabilities, or…well, I think you get the idea. 

The fact is that accessibility benefits us all and it doesn’t just affect “that one person” in the department.

Besides, if it wasn’t for “that one person” in a wheelchair who needed an elevator to get to the upper floors, we’d all still be taking the stairs. If it wasn’t for “that other person” who needed text to voice capabilities none of us would be able to order anything from Alexa or ask Siri about the latest knock-knock joke. We all benefit from digital accessibility. It is personal, but for some, it is essential.

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