On Wednesday 12th February, a Studio Graphene cohort attended the Tech-Cessibility ‘How brands benefit by making the world more accessible to all’ talk. With an incredible line-up of speakers including Eugene Stipp - Engineering Director at Google UK, Lew - Vulnerable Customer Analyst at Monzo, and Laura Visick - Director of Innovation at FCB Inferno, it’s safe to say we all learnt a lot!
So, what are our key take aways?
Accessibility in tech is becoming increasingly forefront in people’s minds when designing tech products - and for good reason. There are 13.9 million people in the UK with disabilities and, of these, 96% have ‘invisible’ illnesses (e.g. people with visual or auditory impairments who do not wear glasses or hearing aids). Not only does this represent a huge section of our society, but this number of people is also estimated to represent £250billion in spending power. It is clear that there is a need for us to reset the expectation of what technology will help us achieve, and democratise the power of technology so everybody has equal access.
How are companies currently innovating to make products accessible?
Monzo now includes accessibility in their company values. When they make hires, they hire people who value innovation as a means of making the world a better place for individuals from every walk of life. One example of how Monzo is doing this is that they’re now looking for ways of homeless people, or people who don’t have the necessary documents, to open a bank account.
Laura and the FCB Inferno worked alongside Huawei to create an app that enables deaf children to learn to read - StorySign. Illiteracy is a huge problem in the deaf community as children are not able to learn to read phonetically. The StorySign app translates the text from selected books into sign language, bringing the books to life and helping deaf children enjoy storytime.
What practical tips can we take from this talk into our workplace?
Start by diversifying your team. Encourage people from all walks of life, with all different backgrounds, and people with disabilities. This will help broaden your companies’ horizons as the people you are designing for have direct input and can give you invaluable insights. A diverse range of employees will bring in different points of view, skills and experiences that you can draw on.
Eugene spoke of a time at Google where members of staff were blindfolded and told to use the product they had created. Of course, they couldn’t, and this simple exercise highlighted the gaps and limitations in their product offering. This is a simple but effective way you can highlight to your team the kinds of features they need to think about when designing products.
Always consider maximising accessibility when designing features/products. Make it a key part of your process, rather than an afterthought. Start by asking: If something has always been done in X way for years, how can you change that? If two apps with similar functionality are launched, the app that is the most accessible will become the app that is adopted.
Be open with your users - share your product roadmap and encourage feedback!
What struck us as we sat at this talk was that, actually - none of these action points are all that difficult, and they also align with where we want to be as a company culturally, and as our values dictate. While we have begun exploring the world of accessible technology, there’s still a lot of work to be done. So - best get at it!