The Importance of Large-Scale Platform Accessibility




September 22, 2021

One billion people – 15% of the world’s population – experience some form of disability. For product thinkers and builders this represents a significant chunk of any potential customer base they may target, making accessibility not only a social impact area but also a crucial measure of success. For net-new products built on emerging technologies this means that accessibility should be a core feature in bottom-up design; however, for many smaller organizations who build their digital products on an established framework accessibility is a more significant challenge.

Today, 70% of all websites are built on just four platforms – WordPress (32%), Squarespace (18%), Shopify (13%), and Weebly (7%). For users of these platforms, their ability to design with accessibility depends on the extent that each of these platforms prioritizes accessibility. As a result there is a trickle-down effect from these platforms into the lives of people all over the world. And within this effect is a huge opportunity, as every accessibility improvement  to these platforms represents an impact that’s replicated on 70% of the world’s websites.

However, understanding the potential impact and bringing it to life are two different things. Working with our friends at Fable we’ve devised four solutions that these large-scale web building platforms could employ to make the internet more accessible for everyone.

Increase user awareness through accessibility checkers

Accessibility checkers built into platforms are impactful tools for helping product builders design with accessibility in mind. At present they are often a backend add on, but Microsoft and Google’s accessibility checkers have proved the value of making these features more prominent throughout the building process. If platforms begin to include accessibility checkers during content and theme creation, there will be a huge impact both on the accessibility of content and author awareness of accessibility.

Make content authorship accessible

Similarly, accessible content authoring systems could be built directly into platforms. Doing so allows everyone to create new websites on equal footing. Today, many users may need to find work-arounds or invest in plug-ins. For any platform that makes all content authorship accessible there is a huge opportunity to lead and define this category.

A good example of where improvements are already being made is from Shopify. They recently tested Shopify Email with people with disabilities, and then designed and updated key features to be more accessible to blind, low vision, and alternative navigation users.

Design for accessibility as a default

In the past, accessibility has often come second in product development. However, now accessibility should be a default, especially for platforms that millions of people use. For newer, less experienced builders, platforms can provide warnings and suggestions when a decision impacts accessibility. Changing the mental model and layering accessibility into every part of the process can improve accessibility for end users.

Employ the Product Thinking approach

Product Thinking is a unified approach to product development, an innovation and execution approach that combines the technical excellence of agile delivery, the focus of human-centered design, and the rigor of management consulting to enable cross-disciplinary teams to build the right things right. With the three previous solutions in mind, Product Thinking ensures that accessibility is viewed through the lens of product usability and becomes core to what the customers sees and uses in the market.

Improving the accessibility of just a few platforms has the power to immediately improve the accessibility of over half of the world’s websites and open up the internet in unprecedented ways. For product builders working on these platforms, investing in accessibility can help make them even better, and more accessible to millions more people.

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