Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Diversity, Market Driving Accessible, Inclusive Design

Apple hugging an orange
In September, Scientific American cited some convincing studies showing that diversity in the workplace makes us more diligent, creative and hard working. Although the studies were based mostly on sex, race and culture, we know at IBM that this clearly extends to people with disabilities. Likewise, tech companies around the globe are adding more disabled workers and accessibility experts into their workforce. Designers are reaching out, looking for people with disabilities to help them create inclusive designs.

There is a powerful current in technology today toward inclusive design. AT&T, Yahoo, Microsoft and more are creating accessibility departments loaded with experts to design their products so that everyone can use them. This isn’t simply an altruistic change in their business model, but also an attempt to tap into a multi-billion dollar market for accessible software. In turn, we see organizations such as the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) working to connect accessibility professionals with companies in need. It’s the right thing to do, sure, but isn’t it nice that there is a bottom-line dollar impact statement to rest on?

David Fazio, who battled through a brain aneurism when he was 14, has been speaking around the world on the astounding size of the market for accessible products. He recently released his book, Harmony at Work, that addresses the need for product experiences that work for everyone. He drives in his point of inclusiveness with the enormous market behind it.

However, we don’t just gain from selling accessible products and watching our stocks rise. In fact, money may just be the fringe benefit. When we give people with disabilities tools that allow them to work alongside the rest of us, we can finally harvest the rich knowledge of our entire community. Additionally, we give people with disabilities an opportunity to do something that we all intrinsically want, to be productive in our workforce and be self-sufficient in society.

Today, we see components such as user-centered "design thinking" frameworks, the growing number of the elderly worldwide, and a heightened awareness of the benefits of a diverse workforce coming together to form a perfect storm in the tech industry. By partnering with accessibility experts, designers and developers are getting both gratification from and recognition for building their skills and influence in inclusive design. If you’re a designer who isn’t involved in inclusive design, yet, this isn’t just inevitable, it’s imminent. 

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