Importance of Accessibility in Internal Applications

This article was originally written as a contribution to a corporate newsletter. The intended audience is project managers and directors who may not be well versed in accessibility as it pertains to their applications.

A successful user interface is one that serves all of its users, regardless of their ability or how they access the application. Web accessibility is an inclusive practice that removes barriers and ensures all users have
equal access to content and tools.

Accessibility is crucial to public facing sites, where federal law requires that the needs of disabled users are met, but what about internal applications? Most internal applications are exposed to a limited audience; we do not expect screen readers to use enterprise web applications. If that is the case, then who benefits from an accessible interface and why is it a priority?
Often when we think of accommodating for disabilities, our minds jump to specific examples like providing closed captioning and writing alt text. Rather than thinking of specific disabilities, we should look at ways in which any user could be excluded from our application.

Exclusion could be permanent, such as low vision (most adults will experience vision loss with age). Exclusion could also be temporary, an injured wrist making it difficult to use the mouse. Being excluded from our application could also be situational; using a screen in harsh lighting may make text difficult to read if it is too small or low contrast. Designing for permanent, temporary, and situational exclusions ensures that all of our users have the same access to our product.

How can we as developers and designers ensure we are creating accessible tools for our users? First, we must familiarize ourselves with web accessibility; the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a great starting point for reading about accessibility. Consider studying for and receiving accessibility certification from an organization like the International
Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). When designing and developing, learn design patterns that are accessible and use well-formed, semantic markup. During testing, we can use tools like WAVE to test our applications accessibility.

Providing the greatest number of ways to use an application means that users have options to complete tasks however they may need to. Maximizing accessibility allows equal access to our tools across many situations. A user that needs high contrast for vision impairment, and a user that needs contrast because they are using the application on a tablet in the sun are both able to overcome barriers through accessibility. These principles are important to keep with us as we develop software for ourselves, our colleagues, and the general public.

More reading:

Inclusive Design: It’s Your Job
Introduction to Web Accessibility
Inclusive Components
Microsoft: Inclusive Design