On Sunday, July 26th 2020, the Americans with Disabilities Act turned 30. This landmark piece of legislation mandated, among many other things, that places of public accommodation not discriminate against those with a disability; in short, any place open to the public must be made accessible. In modern times that has now expanded to include virtual spaces that are publicly available via the internet.
Disability activism has been going on long before 1990, however. As early as 1979, legislation was passed prohibiting discrimination against those with a disability, in both employment and appropriation of federal funds via the Rehabilitation Act of 1979. Those of us who enjoy the protections of this act, as well as the ADA, owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to the thousands of activists who protested, sent letters, called legislators, and otherwise made it possible for this landmark achievement to fight its way into law.
There are many reasons to care about the ADA and accessibility as a whole, and they may be different for different individuals. As individuals and as an organization, there are four main reasons that accessibility should be considered in everything we create.
Economics: According to the CDC, one in five Americans lives with some sort of physical or cognitive disability. If a company’s products aren’t able to be used by everyone, then potentially 20% of people out there will never be customers. Furthermore, having the most accessible product in a particular space can create a significant competitive advantage.
Goodwill: Sometimes doing the right thing can have very positive consequences, and evangelizing that other organizations do the same more so. On a more granular level, users of products that are particularly good and accessible are often extremely vocal about them to their local communities and on social media.
Legal: Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, many organizations are now required to make their products and facilities accessible. This has become especially true in the digital age. Netflix, Hulu, and most recently Domino’s, are all examples of large companies that have been successfully litigated for lack of accessibility on their digital platforms. As previously discussed, websites and other digital services have been classified as “places of public accommodation” under Title III of the ADA.
Moral: To put it plainly, living with a disability is tough. Everyday activities that are often taken for granted become extremely difficult with a disability. Ordering fast food, getting on the right bus, seeing a movie, all become exponentially harder. Organizations with the power to do so have a moral obligation to design their products in a way that serves all users.
Morality and doing the right thing to help your fellow human is really the point I’d like to drive home here. The ADA was important not only because it codified into law what we as an organization, and as a society at large, should have been doing already, but it brought the issues faced by Americans living with a disability to the forefront of our collective consciousness and gave those of us living with a disability a way to make our voices heard and have some recourse in the event that we are again swept under a rug.
For those who are unaware, the author of this post is legally blind. I still have some vision but require magnification software to use a computer, can never drive, and certain other daily activities are very difficult. For example, reading anything further than a few feet is generally out of the question, and if it weren’t for the ADA requiring institutions to make accommodations, I don’t see how I could have made it through college, or even continue to get around on public transportation.
The entire point of accessibility is to allow those living with a disability access to the same opportunities as everyone else, education, transportation, employment, etc. And that simply wouldn’t be possible today without the ADA.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “what can I do?” in terms of creating accessible products and creating a welcoming environment for colleagues who may be living with a disability. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Be Aware: Something important to consider when discussing accessibility is that not all disabilities are immediately apparent. Many mental and cognitive disabilities have no outward indicators. The same goes for some physical disabilities such as being low vision or hard of hearing. Try to be cognisant of what the people around you may be going through. In a professional environment, it’s always better to ask than to assume. If you know a colleague is visually impaired it’s ok to ask about their vision rather than just assume they need help. Furthermore, don’t provide assistance that isn’t requested. Your heart may be in the right place, but often people living with a disability have a certain way of doing things that you may be hindering. After all, they do it day in and day out.
Consider All Users: The key philosophy the Alteryx Accessibility Team adheres to is known as Universal Design. When creating a new product, website or experience, consider the way ALL users will interact with it. Don’t just think about “normal” users, but, to the same point, don’t just consider assistive technology users. Consider anyone that may use your product and try to capture those differences in your personas. Does this interaction work for keyboard only users? Is this use of color going to hinder those who may be colorblind? Is it easy for anyone to understand what action is expected? Furthermore, keep those considerations with you throughout the entire life cycle of the product. Accessibility is just as important as UX, engineering and marketing, and often affects all of them. Creating a product for everyone should be considered from the first whiteboard sessions to final deployment. Make it part of the process, not an afterthought.
A few months ago, I conducted an audit of a few of Alteryx’ competitors and found that, while some were better than others, none were completely accessible. While every organization should strive to make it’s products available to those using assistive technology, the problem runs deeper than simple willingness to do the work. Large datasets, and the tools used manipulate and gain insights from them, are inherently difficult to make accessible. It’s very difficult to get an overall understanding of what you’re looking at when you can only ingest tables one cell at a time, such as with a screen reader, or are dislexic. Furthermore, the tools we use to extrapolate conclusions and gain more insight into our data often rely on UX patterns and control schema that don’t lend themselves to accessibility.
For example, a drag and drop interface may be intuitive for most users, but if you can’t use a mouse due to a disability, that paradigm becomes unusable. Furthermore, taking large sets of data and visualizing them in creative and complex ways can be a great way to break lots of information into digestible chunks, unless you can’t see the screen, or have trouble distinguishing colors.
This is the current challenge that our industry faces. Every day we make it easier for the average person to turn large amounts of nearly-incomprehensible data into understandable nuggets of information that can be used to make decisions and generally make our professional lives easier and more productive. However, this has yet to extend to those living with a disability who rely on assistive technology to gain access to information. As previously stated, the point of accessibility is to give everyone the same access to information and opportunities that information could provide. But how do you do that when the information itself is nearly inaccessible?
The answer is, you innovate. You disrupt. You don’t take “no” for an answer. Just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t and certainly doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. From a purely business perspective, having the first self-service analytics software suite that is accessible to those with a disability can, and will, create the significant competitive advantage mentioned previously. We could give an entire generation of disabled users access to tools and information that no one else ever has. Finding gainful employment with a disability is often challenging, and with the state of the world right now, finding gainful employment for many people is challenging. Shouldn’t we extend the capacity for a career in the analytics industry and the chance to achieve personal growth to those that need it the most?
For the last few months, the Alteryx Accessibility Team has been striving to make Designer the first platform in the analytics industry to give those using assistive technology the same opportunity to save time and gain better insights from their data that everyone else is afforded. It’s a long and uphill road, but we feel confident that we can forge new paths in this field and open up entirely new career opportunities for those living with a disability in our ever-expanding digital world.
And while that is the goal, the greater good that comes from this work is that we make our products and platforms better for everyone. The concept of Universal Design essentially says that by designing for all users, rather than just “normal” users or only disabled users, you make the product better for all users. That’s what the ADA is about isn’t it? Giving the same opportunities to everyone, leveling the playing field, so that anyone, regardless of ability, can take hold of their data and participate in the analytic revolution that Alteryx is leading.
So, as this landmark legislation turns 30, the Alteryx Accessibility team asks that you consider the above in your day-to-day life, both personally and professionally with the hope of breaking down barriers and making the world more inclusive.
Feel free to reach out to the team with questions: email@example.com
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