Council on Disability Calls for IT Design Changes
Council on Disability Calls for IT Design Changes
The National Council on Disability (NCD) called on the designers and manufacturers of electronic and information technology (E&IT) to incorporate universal design processes when developing their E&IT products. The report demonstrates how designing with access in mind can significantly increase the size of targeted markets for E&IT. NCDs report, Design for Inclusion: Creating a New Marketplace, analyzes six product lines from the telecommunications, software, consumer electronics, and digital services industries for accessibility and usability: ATM machines, cell phones, distance learning, personal digital assistants, televisions, and voice recognition software.
According to NCD chairperson Lex Frieden, People with disabilities want to use the same products that everyone else uses. They do not want to be limited to specialized products that are more costly. Implementation of universal design is the best way to satisfy this desire of people with disabilities, while also providing more cost-effective products for all users. While it is impossible to satisfy the needs of all users, products and services that come closer to accommodating a variety of physical and cognitive differences will benefit both users and companies.
Universal design is a process to ensure that electronic and information technology is inclusive, accessible, and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities. Incorporating universal design processes when developing E&IT is one solution to accommodating people with disabilities that also improves the usability of the products for the rest of the population. NCDs research attempts to understand the market for universally designed mainstream consumer products and services, document successful universal design development processes, understand consumer needs, understand universal design facilitators and barriers, and identify and address current issues in universal design.
This research occurs at a time when understanding and incorporating universal design into the development process are most crucial. We are in the window of opportunity for implementing Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended). Section 508 requires the Federal Government to purchase accessibly designed E&IT. If progress is not made quickly in improving the skills of government and industry employees on accessibility issues, Section 508’s objectives may be less than fully realized.
The experiences and thoughts of consumers with disabilities provided important insight into the future design of accessible products. Some key findings from consumers with disabilities were:
I. Users with disabilities are often asked to pay high prices for products with features that are not useful to them.
II. Rapid changes in technology often cause decreases in accessibility.
III. Users are reluctant to adopt technologies that have proven frustrating in the past.
IV. Users have difficulty finding devices that match their functional capabilities because of the lack of familiarity sales associates have with accessibility features.
V. Users are reluctant to invest in technologies that have an unproven accessibility record.
VI. Accessibility solutions must consider the needs of the individual with disabilities.
Substantial increases in accessibility will be required before increased sales to members of the disability community are realized.
Several important recommendations from this research for designers, developers, federal agencies, and companies striving to incorporate universal design into their development process can be made. They include:
–Use standards (government or industry) to prohibit nonessential features that pose accessibility problems unless an alternative interface that solves the problem is provided.
–Use standards (government or industry) to eliminate interoperability problems that create accessibility problems.
–Institute procedures designed to ensure that due diligence is given to section 508 procurement requirements. Perform an internal analysis of the impact of section 508 on the procurement of actual products. Publish the results of the analysis as a way of convincing industry that the Federal Government is committed to section 508.
–Consider requesting supporting evidence for claims made on voluntary product accessibility templates from all vendors responding to bid proposals.
–Develop, test, and disseminate methodologies for integrating universal design into existing design practices.
–Support the development of university-level training materials that could be incorporated into the curriculums of existing design-oriented degree programs. The training materials should include awareness-expanding videos and other teaching resources that illustrate the potential impact of key design process interventions on the lives of people with disabilities and other beneficiaries of universal design.
–Develop an information clearinghouse where users can obtain information about accessibility issues and the features designed to address the issues for specific product lines. Educate consumers on how to shop for universal design products and services. List vendor resources where consumers can obtain more information about universal design products.
–Develop marketing strategies and approaches that will facilitate a connection with people with disabilities.