A cup of coffee in one hand. A box of items in the other. You have a meeting on the second floor of a building and find yourself at an impasse: how should you get up there?
If you would like to add a few extra steps to your day, you may opt to take the stairs. Or if you want a moment to relax before your meeting, you might choose the escalator. You could also take the elevator, but why does it even matter how you go up if each option leads you to the same destination?
Well for some, the stairs or the escalator aren’t a viable option: think about those who are pushing a stroller, carrying something heavy, have trouble with stability or use an assistive device. Accessibility is an important factor in the way people get around as well as interact with each other. When we design accessible and accommodating systems, everyone can fully participate in them.
But how does accessibility apply in the workplace?
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). NDEAM is dedicated to empowering employees with adverse conditions. This year’s NDEAM theme is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” Employees across all industries are encouraged to celebrate and learn more about the contributions of the disabled community to the workplace. This month also aims to educate business leaders and the public about the need for accommodations.
In fact, the co-founder of EY, Arthur Young, was deaf with low vision. Unable to practice law, he pivoted to finance and accounting. His determination eventually led to the creation of our firm.
To this day, EY offers a lot of benefits that accommodate everyone. Some of what we offer includes: Better You, professional networks, the Well Being Fund, the WOW Fund (reimbursements on return-to-the-office expenses), holidays, flexible vacation and a generous personal-family care policy. EY also offers disabilities-related information, policies and resources. It might not be obvious but when these benefits are woven together, employees are empowered in both their work and their lives.
At the Philadelphia studio, there are other ways that employees are empowered. We work in a hybrid environment: employees can either work remotely or from home when they choose. On site, there are elevators, bathrooms, kitchens, drinks and snacks on each floor. There is also a shower room, a wellness room, and other amenities available for use. Moreover, there are multiple channels used to communicate with each other when someone has an idea, needs guidance, isn’t feeling well or needs help. You can be assured that someone is always there to listen and help you out if you need it.
This culture of rapport and candor also translates into the work our studio does. One of the studio’s biggest principles is designing with empathy. This could take on a lot of different meanings, but to our studio, it means always thinking about the user and being open to comments, findings and recommendations from our discovery and research work. Even if there are best practices for user experiences and interfaces, what’s most important is being able to tailor to the people who are going to be interacting with what we design.
Some questions to consider while designing are:
- How are users able to access this information?
- Can this information be accessed outside of the browser?
- Would users still be able to access this information without iconography or color?
- Are screen-reader users able to easily access this information?
- Does the content have enough contrast and visibility?
- Is the content sufficient to guide users?
There are many more questions to help refine or evolve the final product. In each phase of the design process, considerations are always made in terms of accessibility. But it doesn’t just stop there. Refinement can only occur if new findings are taken into consideration. When this happens, user interfaces and experiences become easier to navigate for everyone.
Think about one of your favorite sites or applications to use: what do you like about the experience? Is information easy to find? Are buttons easy to use?
What if a person used an assistive device to navigate the same site or application? You might find that they’d have differing opinions depending on their experience.
So if you ever find yourself in a position to create something, think about how others are able to access it. Some important things to consider are high contrast, easy-to-read typography and clear headings. Additionally, consider alternative text and supporting microcopy. For more information on web accessibility, check out the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 requirements (success criteria) and techniques.
Even when you believe you’ve reached a point where you think you’re done, consider having your work reviewed by others. When you design inclusively, you create more universal experiences, as well as open the door to more people with a wide variety of characteristics, backgrounds and abilities.
Accessibility and inclusivity transcend beyond the digital world. Think about all the other objects that you interact with on a day-to-day basis. Are there certain things that you really like to use? Now think about the variations for those items. How many are there, or is there only one? Having several options to choose from is what helps to make a design inclusive and accessible.
Not just for the month of October but for the long term, challenge yourself by ideating with your team on how to make your workplace more inclusive, as well as make your design more accessible. Always challenge the status quo. When you start to observe how things are made and used, you’ll find yourself designing with empathy.
So you’re back at the impasse. Which method do you take: the stairs, the escalator, or the elevator?
Regardless of the path you choose, the fact that you had options will let you get where you need. Just as when users are provided multiple options, they will get to where they need. When you design for everyone, you create opportunities for equity, equality and justice.
Image by Sabrina Tran
The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.
“How to Meet WCAG (Quick Reference),” Web Accessibility Initiative website, www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref.