Blind World Magazine

United Kingdom.
Being inclusive is good business.

October 04, 2005.
IT Week, United Kingdom.

Communications tools that can be used by disabled people reflect well on firms that deploy them

IT Week, 03 Oct 2005 - As I've mentioned before in these columns, disabled people often have difficulty in using communications equipment and network services. This is largely because designers have not considered their needs when developing new systems. Ideally, equipment should be usable by anyone, a concept known as inclusive design. Although things have definitely improved in this field in recent years there is still a long way to go.

There are many cases where inclusive design doesn't work; for example, it would be very expensive to fit a Braille reader to every mobile phone. However, there is a whole range of improvements that can be made at little or no cost.

For instance, it wouldn't be hard for a mobile phone designer to make it possible and straightforward to connect a Braille reader. Some companies are beginning to get the idea and have started considering how they can make products more accessible to customers and employees who have problems with sight and/or hearing.

There are many hundreds of publications giving advice on users' needs but it can be very hard to find the most appropriate documents. This problem is being tackled by a special working group (SWG) set up by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The SWG is making a list of standards relating to accessibility, analysing them for gaps and duplications, arranging for the gaps to be filled and generally publicising the work.

Unlike the usual standardisation work in the ISO and IEC, the SWG has decided to make its meetings open and to publish all its documents at no charge - see the URL below. It is encouraging users and user organisations to take part to ensure that their needs are properly considered. The policy is working and many people are contributing.

The SWG work is progressing well and we shall soon have much better guidance on how to design products, systems and services that are accessible to all. Access ibility is particularly important in the workplace. Almost every company has some disabled employees and it can be expensive to make special arrangements for them to use the corporate systems. However, in many cases, if the systems were better planned at the design stage, things would be cheaper in the longer term. Careful design can also make the system more usable for everyone else, and government grants may be available to help pay for any extra costs.

Consideration of accessibility early in the design process results in a widening of the market and increased usability. It doesn't make sense to try to bolt on accessibility later on. Companies soon get a reputation for making accessible products or considering the needs of their staff; those who fail attract more and more criticism.

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