Bigger than ROI: Accessibility Fosters Innovation and Advances Technology for Everyone

Bigger than ROI: Accessibility Fosters Innovation and Advances Technology for Everyone
Photo credit: user Carl Heyerdahl

When you get information on movie times from Siri, or ask Google directions while you’re driving, or tell Alexa to turn up your music, do you consider it a cool feature, or something life-changing?

For people with disabilities, access to technology that other people take for granted has been an uphill battle. Having impaired sight, hearing, or movement can make websites and devices difficult or impossible to use. In today’s economy, that means being shut out, regardless of your talent or intelligence. That isn’t just unfortunate; it is unjust.

And it’s changing.

For some of the biggest companies in tech, accessibility—making sure that connected technology is usable by everyone—isn’t an incidental part of their business model, or a little niche division. It is part of their entire corporate ethos. Giants like Apple and Microsoft, who have recently unveiled websites entirely devoted to assistive technology, understand that opening up opportunity for everyone is the right thing to do, and it makes sense. It grows a business, and grows a community. It can help them develop new features that everyone can use. Most importantly, it gives everyone a voice in this new economy we’re building, business by business, person by person.

The Case for Accessibility Beyond ROI

“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI.” That was Apple’s CEO Tim Cook in 2013, responding to an investor group who was asking him to cut back on projects that weren’t immediately profitable. When we think of Tim Cook, we don’t usually think passion or anger, but this was obviously something extremely important to him.

Apple has long been at the forefront of the accessibility trend. In 2015, they were honored with the Helen Keller Achievement Award by the American Foundation for the Blind for their work in making the iOS the gold standard for accessible technology. You’ll note this wasn’t a one-off for a specific product; it was for the operating system that serves as the baseline for all their products.

For Apple, this is a no-brainer. It’s what a company with their power and influence should be doing. They are leading the way in making sure that the game-changing power of communication technology doesn’t leave anyone behind. And they are showing, of course, that doing the right thing doesn’t exactly reduce a company to mendicant levels: Apple’s 4th Quarter revenue last year was a fairly healthy $46.9 billion. Apple’s success is due in part to its desire to make its technology universally accessible.

How Assistive Technology Changes the Market

There are several ways that designing for accessibility improves your business—above and beyond doing the right thing.

  • Accessibility Fosters True Innovation. In Change by Design, author Tim Brown cautions against complying with accessibility just because you have to, suggesting that insights can be gained by addressing those “at the margin.” With accessibility, proactively designing for those with impairments can result in new innovation and products that are more engaging for all users. Designing for accessibility can, in many cases, generate innovations that benefit all users. Apple’s VoiceOver capabilities and Siri are great examples of designs built for the margins (screen reader and speech recognition software for people who can’t see) that ended up being truly valuable to all consumers. It’s another insight into how customers use your product.
  • Accessibility Creates A Bigger Market. With about 56.7 million people—19 percent of the population—being disabled, it is clear that this is a huge, underserved market. Mobile access to more customers is a lesson retail stores have recently taken to heart, and it is one every business can follow. While it seems too obvious to point out, many businesses ignore the benefits that come with simply opening the door for more people.
  • Create a Community-Oriented Image. It goes beyond opening doors. Being a company or business with a reputation for mindful leadership attracts consumers who cast moral votes with their dollars. You build a community of people who want to encourage companies to expand opportunity.
  • Accessibility Keeps You Flexible in Changing Conditions. About 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day. As they retire and age, their relationship with technology will change. Making sure that your services are accessible to an aging population means keeping pace with crucial market trends.

When you increase accessibility, you don’t just help the present: you create a better future. There’s nothing more tragic than talent that isn’t able to find opportunity. Too many people with disabilities are shut out of a future due to accessibility. You can change that, and you might open a door for someone who is going to change your company.

By designing for accessibility, you’ve opened the door for millions to change our world. That’s what accessibility is. It is the driver of innovation. It’s a challenge that brings out the best in your people. It’s a purpose-driven mission that improves morale. It builds your business by looking beyond the bottom line.

Primitive Logic can help you make sure your website or mobile app reaches all of your customers.

Kevin Moos, April 2017