by David Dauber, Senior Quality Assurance Engineer
As I roll in my electric wheelchair to our company’s first-quarter all-hands meeting, I’m thankful for many things. I’m thankful for the Texas spring weather in February. I’m thankful for a job that I truly love. Most of all I’m thankful for the ability just to get there. My electric wheelchair allows me the ability to move from one place to the next independently. The elevator at my office building gives me the ability to work on the third floor. The ramps, curb cuts, and sidewalks give me the ability to travel from one building to the next. Crosswalk buttons – mounted at a height that I can reach – give me the ability to safely cross the busy Braker Lane. The silver button labeled, “Push to Open,” gives me the ability to independently enter the building of our meeting place. All of these things give me the ability to access my world. They give me accessibility.
Many things are created in the name of accessibility and make it possible for me to live a productive life. The elevator in my office and the door opener at my meeting place were the beginning and ending of a short journey. Anyone that truly knows me, knows that it was a very short journey, because I move pretty fast in my wheelchair. But the design, planning, engineering, and development of all these individual pieces took a lot of time and even money to produce. Likewise, in the software industry, making an application or even a webpage accessible can add to the cost and lifecycle time of the entire project. Who benefits by these increased accessibility requirements? A Wall Street investor who is colorblind can read the pie-chart of your company trend analysis because you used both patterns and colors to signify the different trending events. A business owner who is deaf can watch and enjoy your exciting company marketing video because you closed captioned the audio. A customer who is blind can navigate your website because you’ve coded headings, sub-headings, and content correctly and used alt-tags on your graphics.
These are all fine reasons to add accessibility to all your software development. But, what about the hidden conveniences accessibility makes for everyone? After our meeting was over and as people carried out the leftover sandwiches and presentation equipment, I noticed they all used the “Push to Open” button to navigate through the doors with their arms loaded with stuff. As I approached Braker Lane on my return to the office, I noticed an anxious, helpful, pre-school boy pushing the crosswalk button for his mother whose arms were occupied holding his baby sister’s stroller at the top of the sidewalk ramp. The crosswalk button was at the perfect height for that enthusiastic, button pressing, future quality assurance engineer. Finally, as I made it to the lobby of my office building, I had to wait my turn for the elevator as the package delivery guy loaded his fifth box onto the elevator. That’s when I realized the added value accessibility can bring to everyone. So the next time you’re on that crowded, noisy train trying to watch and listen to the highlights from last night’s big game on your mobile device and your headphones just aren’t cutting it, you too can be thankful for closed captioning and the way it has made your life accessible.