When you’re building a technology company, time is precious and knowledge is one of your most valuable assets. This keeps most founders on the lookout for “high density learning opportunities,” which are experiences rich with new, valuable information.
Philly Tech Week is the definition of a high-density learning opportunity. If you play things right, you can use it to grow your network, gain new knowledge in your areas of expertise, help others, and expose yourself to entirely new areas of technology — all in a single week.
This year, in pursuit of these opportunities, I attended several events that were outside of my normal comfort zone. This dispatch is about one of them: #techInColor’s Accessibility Hacks event.
Held at Benjamin’s Desk on Walnut Street on Tuesday, the event shared best practices for building technology that is accessible to people with disabilities. These disabilities can take many forms ranging from visual and hearing impairment to MS and traumatic brain injuries. The common thread is that the needs of these populations are not well served by the default interfaces of most technology products.
Lightning talks from local thought leaders shed light on the specific needs of these groups and the complexities and opportunities that emerge with each new generation of technology. The experience was eye-opening, and I doubt I’ll ever design another product without the night’s lessons in mind.
One recurring theme of the event was the virtuous cycle that comes from designing products for accessibility from day one. From Comcast’s X1 to Apple’s iOS, native accessibility features mean that every new menu, app, or feature that runs on these platforms has accessibility in its product DNA.
— Bob Moore (@robertjmoore) May 2, 2017
While you may not have the resources of these large corporations at your disposal, there are small steps that you can take in your product designs that make a big difference. Here are a few ideas from the night’s speakers:
- Read up on WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), a set of W3C standards for supporting users with disabilities.
- Make accessibility a business case and priority by requiring it in your company’s definition of the word “done.”
- Include people with disabilities in your user personas, test cases, and real-life user testing.
- Test your products by navigating through them with only a keyboard, consume them using a screen reader, and run them through color contrast checkers.
- Use the word accessibility so much that it’s easier to just abbreviate it as “a11y.”
None of these steps will necessarily break the bank or even require a deadline-pushing amount of time to enact. And when properly incorporated into your business, they can have a major impact on the quality of life for your users.
#techInColor presented this event in partnership with EvoXLabs, which will partner with a local hospital to purchase assistive technology for individuals with disabilities. To learn more about EvoXLabs and make a donation, you can visit their website.
Bob Moore is the president of Philly Startup Leaders, chairman of Stitch, and Head of Magento BI at Magento. He is also co-founder of RJMetrics, which was acquired by Magento in 2016. Follow Bob Moore on Twitter.