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Designers Set Back Accessibility Advances

For decades, differently abled people have been fighting for the right to participate in society. Accommodations for wheelchair users are perhaps what most people notice—curb cuts, parking spaces, and restroom modifications. Back in the 20th century, many of these modifications were done as a retrofit, especially in the workplace. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandated reasonable accommodation in the workplace for people qualified for a position. In other words, you couldn't NOT hire a differently abled person just because they were differently abled. An architect who happened to use a wheelchair might need a ramp to get in the front door, and a grab bar in the bathroom, but the fact the workplace wasn't outfitted that way was not an excuse to pass over the person. The employer had to made the modification.

As we approached the end of the 20th century, buildings, visual designs, and so on were created in a more thoughtful way that embraced people of all types. When I worked at Apple, there was a big push to ensure those who were color blind would have a great user experience even in those cases where color was to communicate something in the user interface. Of course, many other accommodations were integrated into the operating system. But as we get farther and farther into the 21st century, visual designers are becoming less and less considerate of people. Take, for example, the color of type. This image is from the bottom of a newsletter send to my by the Emerson Collective, a progressive non-profit. What does it say? Not only is the font size small, but the very light gray makes it almost impossible to see the Unsubscribe button.

Amazon got flack this week because of its cancellation sequence. I actually cancelled once and experienced it. It's kind of like being on a bad date where you tell the guy no, but he keeps persisting with various scenarios. It is designed to break you down. If you don't have a strong will, or your reading comprehension is a bit weak, you'll never get to quit. Amazon is not the only company presenting long, difficult opt-out experiences. I've been through this with others. It seems that the latest crop of user experience and interaction designers do not have the end user in mind. It's sad because I always thought that design teams were looking out for me. They are no longer. What are design schools are teaching these days?

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