Ever watch The Munsters? It's been years since I have but they always stand out in my mind. You see, I related a little too well to the weird one. No, not the people who didn't fit the standard of 'what is normal' but rather Marilyn Munster - the “plain girl.” You see, even as a young girl I saw how I was different than my family on a physical scale. No, I wasn't the typical version of Americana anymore than my family were odd. I related because I am the only one in my immediate family without some sort of disability. Sure, I wear glasses; the world is a much softer place without them, but when thinking of the fact that my father is blind in one eye and faces physical challenges, my mother had diabetic retinopathy and severe chronic pain, and my sister's hearing was significantly damaged as a child... well the fact that most of us wore glasses didn't exactly rank on the "interesting" scale.
So, fast forward a whole lotta years, here I am a digital strategist who's promoting the inclusion of accessibility-related considerations right from the discovery phase of any project. Is it some long-standing ode to family? Well, they've obviously inspired me but it's more about communication. Learning to adapt how I communicate with different people was just life.
As professionals in a digital platform, we are all communicators. From strategist who analyze the market and help to position a company, to the front end developers who make sure the content is formatted in a way to be absorbed, to the back end developer who needs to make sure all the pieces are in place for communication to occur: each of our essential roles is as that of the communicator.
Accessible websites take that to the next level. They enable you to communicate to more people, about 20% more in fact. The rough numbers, as reported on by the CDC, equal to nearly the same amount of people as the populations of California and New York combined. Can you imagine building a site that alienates those two major markets?
Adapting my style
My communication style when talking to my sister is different than it is with anyone else; in truth, I never realized how different until I was talking to her about this topic a few weeks ago. I articulate even more. According to her, I move my lips in a more obvious way knowing that she's reading them. I learn where the speakers on her hearing aids are and speak to them rather than just speaking loudly. You may think I'm trying to be some great sister. Nope, it's self preservation: there are only so many times you can find yourself yelling something foolish in a suddenly quiet room before you learn to adapt. Online, self preservation is reaching the most of our target market. Having a non-accessible site is... well to 20% of our population is just about as effective as shouting to someone who cannot hear you in an otherwise quiet room.
We’re already doing inclusive design, only it’s a little too focused
As marketers, we adapt all the time. Think of our cell phones. When I started designing sites in the late 90’s it was all about tables and a few frames. Technology has changed and sites built the way they were back then are not all that readable on the smart devices. Our industry adapted, we made our sites accessible to mobile devices, and now responsive design is just how it is done.
The same needs to happen with other accessibility issues: like our industry adapting to make sites easier to use on cell phones, considering the needs of screen readers and other adaptive technologies needs to become the norm. We need to make accessibility ‘just what you do’ - the industry standard. To achieve this goal it’s obviously going to take a LOT of people all doing their part.
The Role of Digital Strategy
Digital strategists have a unique opportunity to help give this a strong push. We are often one of the first teams on a project via its discovery phase and can build accessibility into our deliverables, presenting it as the next evolution of the industry standard for all websites.
Here are a few examples of ways digital strategists can build accessibility into their offerings:
- Audience Research - is the persona more than likely to have a disability?
- KPI Definition - have we built a strong enough argument that will allow us to highlight accessibility as a KPI?
- SEO Audit / Strategy - SEO may not always help accessibility, but accessibility certainly can help SEO.
We can include this in our deliverables as well, for example this Mediacurrent Persona:
It’s a matter of data, researching, and presenting this important topic as “Just what you do.”
It’s all just communication
I speak to my sister’s speakers, I approach my father from the right, I’d described things to my mother instead of handing her a paper, I look for contrast in colors on a website, I check if the H-tags are formatted correctly, and on and on…. these are all things I do to improve the effectiveness of my communication with others, offline and on. My primary skill set is that of the communicator. It’s just what I do.
I have never been the vision of ‘classic Americana’ in a fluffy skirt that Marilyn Munster represented but growing up in a similar role, I’ve had the privilege of learning to adapt my communication style to meet the needs of the person to whom I wish to speak. As a digital strategist here at Mediacurrent, I have the privilege to be able to share my experiences and promote we all work together to do the same on a much larger scale. We have the power to empower our end users. We have the power to change our world.
It’s time to make Accessibility ‘just what we ALL do.’
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