Accessibility and Inclusive Design: A Product Manager’s View on Building Inclusive Products
Within the last few years, organizations have undertaken efforts to incorporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) within their strategies. While these initiatives are traditionally seen in HR areas such as hiring, performance management, and training, there are many opportunities within product management.
Accessibility is a Subset of DEI
Products can and should be inclusive: easily accessible by customer populations who may have a disability. Disability can include visual (e.g., color blindness), motor/mobility (e.g., wheelchair-user concerns), or auditory (hearing difficulties). Designing for a diverse user group—being inclusive of these disabled populations—can be considered a customer-facing DEI initiative.
However, traditionally, product requirements and design have always centered around the primary end users of the product. Seldom do product requirements consider the impact of accessibility on product experience, which impacts overlooked user groups negatively. (Accessibility just means the baked-in degree of ease with which the product can be used by its intended users). However, taking measures to ensure accessibility in the end benefits everyone. Quite often we write requirements assuming the product will be used by a user who does not have accessibility limitations. This incorrect and unfair assumption has shaped how products have been designed and built. These limitations include but are not limited to any barriers that may make it difficult or impossible for users with disabilities to access or use a product. Some common examples include insufficient color contrast, poor navigation links, fonts that can’t resize (zoom), missing descriptive text for images that aren’t visible, lack of keyboard shortcuts, content that can’t be automatically translated, and so on, impacting people who have difficulty. (41.1 Million people according to the US Census).
Inclusive, accessible design, also known as Universal Design, is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a legal requirement defined by many governments and desirable to many companies in the US, Europe, and further globally.
Bringing Accessibility into Product Design
During my product management journey, in the early years teams did not think about this issue at length or make this consideration a part of our product requirements. One may think, “this is a UI issue” so, the responsibility to make products accessible lies with the User Experience (UX) or the User Interface (UI) teams. But I believe this is a shared responsibility of the entire Product team, to make sure it is prioritized through the development lifecycle. Design requirements for accessibility must be defined during requirements and design, then built in development, and tested during QE.
Just like Rome was not built in a day, we as product managers have a lot of work to do in this space and the change will not happen overnight.
What is our role?
Product managers can:
- Stay informed about these issues by attending trainings and reading books such as Design for Inclusivity: A Practical Guide to Accessible, Innovative and User-Centred Design.
- Begin to extend possibilities and incorporate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our requirements discussions.
- Prioritize requirements that make design more inclusive and accessible
- Test software across diverse populations
How PROS Takes Part
Most product-driven companies are already starting to invest in educating their teams about accessibility and inclusive design. I am proud to say that PROS is already taking a lead in this direction. Led by our User Experience and Research teams at PROS, our Accessibility Program started 3 years ago as an integral component of our Design System, and the teams have already done great work imparting accessibility training across the products organization. At PROS, we have also started implementing essential fixes and components both to our B2B and Travel Products that will get us to A compliance and eventually drive us to our end goal of achieving AAA compliance in Accessibility. (These compliance levels are defined by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)).
We all want to create a world where everybody is accepted for their uniqueness and differences and is treated fairly, including having available products that are easy for them to use. While we all continue our efforts on that front, let us, as product managers, take meaningful steps and include conscious decisions in our requirements. When we make product design decisions considering Inclusion and Accessibility, we end up creating great products and solutions, improving the product experience for everyone.
And lastly, at the heart of PROS is our belief that diversity in people, thoughts and beliefs are what drives our creativity and innovation. This commitment expands beyond our walls and reaches into how we create accessible/equitable products and solutions for our customers.
You might also want to check out this article from our Chief People Officer about DEI at PROS.