Extract from “The Business Case for Digital Accessibility”
The following case studies from two large technology companies provide useful examples for companies of all sizes.
Case Study: Apple
Accessibility is a core value at Apple and something we view as a basic human right.
Sarah Herrlinger, Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, Apple
Apple engineers have been innovators in the accessibility space since the inception of the company, both willing to listen and work with outside constituents. 6 The company also anticipates market direction by integrating disability needs into product development.
- iTunes U: In the early 2000’s, the 23-campus California State University system was unable to take advantage of Apple’s iTunes U educational program because the application was not fully accessible to blind students. Teachers within the CSU system were prohibited from using it. This was resolved by innovation, not litigation, as Apple listened to CSU’s concerns and worked to make iTunes accessible on both the Mac and Windows platforms. CSU System was soon able to use the program widely.
- VoiceOver on iPhone: Early in the evolution of the iPhone, Apple began considering the implications that a touchscreen device would have on their blind customers. Iterating over several years behind the scenes, the company invested the resources to develop the voice technology that led to VoiceOver, the world’s first gesture-based screen reader. Within weeks of launch, Apple received a special commendation from the National Federation of the Blind “For designing the first fully accessible touchscreen interface.”
Screen readers on other touch screen devices have now become more prevalent in the industry and Apple has shown important leadership in the effort to ensure inclusion for all. Innovation from voice interactions at Apple and elsewhere have contributed to the abundance of personal digital assistants now found in many homes and offices. Today millions of people use these devices, regardless of ability.
Case Study: Google
“The accessibility problems of today are the mainstream breakthroughs of tomorrow.” Eve Anderson, Director, Accessibility Engineering, Google
A 2016 article in the Fast Company online magazine8 highlights how Google’s investment in accessibility provides the company with an innovation edge in a broad array of products and services. Eve Anderson, the lead engineer, featured in the article, says “I’m passionate about accessibility, not just because I believe in a level playing field, but because (it) makes life more livable for everyone.”
Among the innovations cited as examples are these:
- contrast minimums, required for people with low vision, help all people see in bright light glare situations
- auto-complete, initially provided for people with disabilities, is now widely used by all
- voice control, implemented for users with physical impairments, has been more widely adopted as a great convenience by millions of others
- artificial intelligence advances are based on research originally done to provide visual context to users with visual impairments
auto-captioning using machine learning has been problematic for the main target population of deaf users and many feel it is still inadequate to meet that need. However, work continues and machine learning itself is steadily improving and has found broader applications due to this effort.
Case Study: Microsoft
“Designing inclusive software results in improved usability and customer satisfaction.” Microsoft’s app developer guide
Accessible design considerations often lead to improvements in general customer experience and loyalty. For customers with disabilities, such improvements are essential for equal access. However, accessibility provides options that are useful to all customers in various situations. For example, web accessibility also benefits:
- people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.,
- older people with changing abilities due to ageing,
- people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses,
- challenging situations like bright, glaring sunlight or noisy environments where audio can’t be heard, those with a slow internet connection, limited or expensive bandwidth, which is common in rural areas and some geographical regions.
Increase Market Reach
The market of people with disabilities is large and growing as the global population ages. In the UK, where the large disability market is known as the Purple Pound, people with disabilities and their families spend at least £249 billion every year. In the US, the annual discretionary spending of people with disabilities is over $200 billion. The global estimate of the disability market is nearly $7 trillion. Consider these facts when estimating market size:
- At least one billion people – 15% of the world’s population – have a recognized disability
- As the population ages, many more acquire disability and yet do not identify as a “person with a disability”
- In countries with life expectancies of over 70 years of age, people spend 11.5 percent of their lifespan living with a disability.
Globally, the extended market is estimated at 2.3 billion people who control an incremental $6.9 trillion in annual disposable income.
Accessible design is by its nature flexible, allowing content to faithfully render across a broad spectrum of devices, platforms, assistive technologies, and operating systems. In physical environments, everyone takes advantage of lower curbs, automatic door openers, ramps, and other features provided for disability access. On the web, accessibility features become options that are also often used more widely.
A compelling example comes from the early 2000’s, when people increasingly used mobile devices to browse the web. Accessible and standards-compliant websites were in many cases more mobile-ready as they did not rely on mouse input. Imagine the delight of those who were already committed to and had designed for accessibility! This revelation led to the responsive-design trend that has accessibility at its core.
Below is the 7-minute video with examples of how accessibility is essential for people with disabilities and useful for everyone in a variety of situations.