Accessibility First is the New Mobile First

You probably know the term “mobile first.” It’s a method of creating apps and websites so they look and work well when viewed on mobile devices, and later, once the user experience (UX) is good on mobile, adjusting the UX for larger screens.

There are a lot of reasons to use a mobile first approach. Most importantly, following this approach makes your application more user-friendly — independent of the device — and a good UX will bring more users to your product.

To be first, or not to be first

Aside from mobile first, there are several different approaches that guide the software development process, prompting us to focus on specific priorities over others. Test-Driven Development and Domain-Driven Design are great examples. If done correctly, applying methods like these help you follow the right steps to ensure your application will have better quality, maintainability, and developer and user experience.

It might be tempting to think, “Of course, I want to have a good design, tests, or a mobile version — but I can work on that later.” But there’s a catch: Adding those aspects later is much harder and more costly. As one example, adding proper domain code to an application made of spaghetti code is an extremely challenging task. It might be easier to rewrite it from scratch than try to adjust later.

It is significantly cheaper to focus on those development aspects from the start of your project. Of course, it might not be cheaper in the beginning, but it pays off in the long run. If you are thinking long-term, factoring these things in from the start is the way to go.

What is accessibility and why should you care about it?

Accessibility is the practice of making your websites and apps usable by as many people as possible. This means making the experience usable for a wide variety of users — including those with disabilities, older populations, those on mobile devices with slow networks, and more.

Similar to prioritizing UX on mobile devices early in the process, it’s better to focus on accessibility from the start of a project than to have to add it in later at a greater cost.

So you now know why you should factor in accessibility from the start of a project, but why does it matter if your page or app is accessible?

There are multiple reasons:

It’s simply the right thing to do

Prioritizing accessibility is about being kind to others.

When designing and developing, you should assume a portion of your users will need accommodations, either right now or eventually down the road. For example, even if a user doesn’t require accommodations now or permanently — they could break a hand, preventing them from using a keyboard or mouse efficiently for a period of time. An accessible app ensures that regardless of ability, your product remains usable.

There are over a billion people in the world with at least one disability. If you don’t provide support for them, you’ll lose a lot of users and potentially a lot of revenue. Not only will developing accessible apps and websites lead to more users and revenue — you’re doing your part to create a better world for current and future generations.

Everyone benefits

Accessibility benefits everyone — and that truly means everyone!

Some of the world’s greatest inventions were created with a specific group of people in mind, but they turned out to be useful for all of us. In fact, some are so common now that we don’t even notice when they make our lives easier. Curb cuts next to crosswalks are one example. Originally, these were created to help war veterans who were wheelchair-bound navigate city streets more easily, but they are more convenient for everyone. If you walk with a baby stroller or roll luggage, you can cross the street more smoothly.

It’s the same on the web. Proper focus management on a web form can help everyone fill it in more quickly. Good color contrast helps you read text without making your eyes tired. Captions let you watch a video when you can’t or prefer not to enable sound. Voice recognition makes it possible to type text using just your voice when you can’t use your hands or just want to do it faster.

All of the above things are essential for accessibility support but are also positive additions for everyone, even those who don’t necessarily need them.

It’s (sometimes) the law

Sometimes, it’s legally required to provide accessibility support. Even if you don’t have to do it now, it might be required when the business wants to grow into a new geographic area or the current law changes.

If you want to see some examples of accessibility requirements, here’s a list organized by country.

This shouldn’t be the main reason you make your projects accessible, but if it’s what convinces you that accessibility is worth your time, we’ll take it!

Accessibility is one (important) part of a whole

No matter what, a good mobile app or website is accessible.

But keep in mind that even though accessibility is important, other aspects of product development are equally as important. You don’t need to choose between accessibility and mobile, or between tests and domain modeling. All of them are independently necessary, and they also complement each other.

If you are not doing it already, please consider making your page or app accessible. It will help you and others, and ultimately make our world a better, friendlier place.

In our experience on the Help Scout engineering team, it will also make you feel better!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how you can get started with accessibility and how to properly apply it to your future projects.

In the meantime, check out this list of (debunked) myths around accessibility.

Like what you see? Share with a friend.