The Importance of Designing for Accessibility in Business Travel Software & Beyond
Accessibility in the digital world
Hi I'm Harper Lieblich, vice president of product at Deem and I'm excited to talk to you about a topic that's becoming increasingly important in the software we use across the travel industry: Accessibility.
For a lot of folks, traveling for business is an important part of their job and living with a disability shouldn't get in the way of their career. Since the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States and similar laws around the world, we've been continually improving the accessibility of our physical spaces. But with the explosion of apps and websites over the past 20 years, it's become increasingly important to make sure that our digital spaces are accessible too.
To give you a sense of how big that digital space has become, there were 230 billion app downloads in 2021. Time spent in those mobile apps continues to rise and we don't see any signs of that slowing down.
We're hearing from business travelers how important accessibility is across every aspect of travel. It can be easy to slip into the idea that only a handful of people at our work might be living with disabilities, but the reality is that nearly every person on earth is likely to experience a disability at some point in their life.
In fact, 15% of the world's population is living with some form of disability at any given time and 80% percent of accessibility needs are acquired between the ages of 18 and 64. Those are your working years.
The realities and benefits of being accessible
Of course, accessibility is an important aspect of any efforts to improve diversity, equity, inclusion as well. People living with disabilities make for great employees. They bring fresh perspectives to the challenges the businesses face. So it's an important aspect of inclusion that we need to consider.
There is also a large legal obligation to ensure accessibility in our digital interfaces. In the U.S we've seen lawsuits related to the accessibility of websites and apps increase year over year. And in Europe digital accessibility is legally mandated as part of the European Accessibility Act with a compliance deadline just around the corner.
There are a few different categories of disabilities that need to be addressed when building apps and websites. So let’s take a look at some of the ways we can build our software to be more accessible.
Features for visual impairments
The first category is visual impairment or blindness. This is a decreased ability to see that can't be corrected with glasses or medication. There are a few different ways we can account for vision impairments.
One method is to ensure that any critical elements on the screen have enough contrast with their background. Gray text on gray backgrounds is hard to read for anyone and it's especially difficult for folks with vision impairments. The smaller and thinner the text, the higher the ratio required.
Another method is to make sure that a user can increase the size of text and icons on the screen in a way that doesn't break the layout. Here you can see what that looks like on a desktop size website.
And here's an example of how it looks on a native mobile app.
In the event that making the content bigger and clearer on screen isn't sufficient, a lot of users will use what's called a screen reader. This is a feature or app that actually reads the contents of the screen out loud. So we want to make sure that any information we're communicating visually is just as clear when read out by a screen reader.
Here's a pretty common example that you might find in the travel industry—a flight itinerary:
Visually this might make a lot of sense, but when a screen reader speaks it you get something that sounds like "SFO Arrow Dub APR 8 dash APR 14.” That sounds like gobbledygook. So we need to take care to make sure that the screen reader isn't just reading what's written but that it has enough context to speak in natural language.
It should sound something like “San Francisco International Airport to Dublin Airport April 8th to April 14th.” That takes a little bit of extra effort but it makes for a much better experience for somebody who's using a screen reader.
Features for hearing impairments
The second category of disability that we'll cover today is hearing impairments. This is the total or partial inability to hear sounds. When we offer audio content via our app or website, which is mostly via video, we need to make sure that there are options to enable closed captions or sign language. And when we offer support via phone call we need to make sure that written forms of communication, like chat and email, are just as responsive and competent.
Features for motor impairments
The next category that we'll cover is motor impairments. The most visual example of this is represented by the need for a wheelchair to get around. But there are types of motor impairment that make it difficult or in some cases impossible to use a mouse or touch screen.
We can make it a lot easier to use an app or website on a touch screen by making sure that the most important controls are in easy to reach zones of a device. So, basically somewhere in the middle. It’s also important to make sure that buttons and links have big enough targets so that they're easy to tap or click on.
For users who can't use a mouse or touchscreen, we have to make sure that they can access the entire app or website using just a keyboard or other type of switch. Sometimes that's as limited as blowing into a straw.
The way we account for this is by making sure a user can select each element on the page one at a time and in logical order. This requires a lot of care and attention but it can make the experience much more successful for folks using this type of control.
It’s important to note that this is how you might control your computer or smartphone when using a screen reader as well, so it's important for multiple types of disabilities.
Features for cognitive impairments
The last category I want to cover today is cognitive impairments, which includes a broad range of disabilities. One good example is dyslexia. One of the ways that we address such impairments is by making our apps and websites a lot clearer and a lot easier to absorb one piece of information at a time.
Take a look at this example, below. It's a pretty typical description of a hotel room that you might get for the night. It's a little bit tough to read even for somebody who's not suffering from a cognitive impairment.
We can make this a lot easier to to interact with or read by giving it a little bit of hierarchy. Below we've made a few of the pieces of text bold, added more space and dividers. Now you're able to consume one piece of information at a time. Finally, we can go a step further by adding in some graphical and layout elements to this card.
As you can see this has gotten a little bit longer; you have to scroll, but it has the advantage that you're only tackling one piece of information at a time which is critical for folks with certain types of cognitive impairments.
Additional accessibility resources
These are just a few examples of the different types of disabilities that we worry about and a few of the different ways that we are able to address them as we work to make our apps and websites more accessible. We believe at least that accessibility isn't just good for folks with disabilities. It benefits all of our users.
If you'd like to find out more, I highly recommend that you check out the web content accessibility guidelines. Or you can check out our free eBook regarding web content and accessibility.