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The importance of accessibility in IT projects

Blog posted by: Chris Broderick, 29 Jun 2021.

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We all know the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in both projects and the wider world of work. Diversity and inclusion is good for a company’s reputation but also for its revenue according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which shows that diverse and inclusive companies can reach wider audiences and so boost their bottom line. Diversity is also emerging as a success factor for project success according to APM’s research into the conditions of project success.

However, it’s important to be aware that D&I is about including all under-represented groups meaning people with disabilities or impairments too. It means creating websites, software tools and IT systems that enable those with disabilities and impairments to take full advantage of a company’s digital offerings. Accessibility is, or should be, an inherent part of inclusivity.

But are organisations and their project professionals considering accessibility enough when developing new digital offerings? To be truly inclusive, we should be, because inclusivity in IT projects is not a tick-box exercise. It’s about being fully committed to providing solutions that work for everyone in our society.

Accessibility at the forefront of project requirements

Project professionals have a key role to play here: guiding and advising clients and stakeholders to embed accessibility requirements into IT projects right from the start - to genuinely improve project outcomes for all. And to ensure products are suitable for diverse users such as those with visual or hearing impairments.

Yes, it might add time and complexity to IT projects to make them fully accessible to all, but there are rewards for using those extra resources and not just the financial rewards identified by BCG. Organisations that embrace and embed accessibility into their IT systems and products also benefit from an improved reputation and image, both from customers and internally from their own workforce.

According to Matinée Multilingual, a company using their expertise in subtitling and voice overs to make e-learning courses accessible to people with hearing or sight impairments, online accessibility should be an intrinsic part of every diversity and inclusion programme. They identify at least five benefits of doing so:

  1. Reaching and engaging with as many people as possible.
  2. Demonstrating a full understanding of the wide range of people in our society.
  3. Showing that your project or company isn’t just paying lip-service to D&I
  4. Digital assets such as websites and apps are a public display of commitment to accessibility.
  5. Project teams and other employees experience a motivational, ‘feel-good’ factor about the company they work for.

Existing technologies that support accessibility

Incorporating accessibility into IT projects is quite simply the right thing to do and project professionals can raise awareness of its importance in their own online and digital projects, and increase their own knowledge of the solutions already available that support accessibility.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already having an impact on web accessibility. Automated Speech Recognition (ASR), for instance, can be used to automatically create closed captions or subtitles for online video content, which helps deaf people engage with video content. Even better, ASR can learn to improve subtitles over time. AI-powered language translators are also available in over 60 languages that further extend the ability to implement accessible digital solutions for people with impaired hearing.

AI-based image processing is also helping visually-impaired users understand the content in images by describing images verbally, although this technology still has some way to go as it relies on websites implementing text descriptions of every image. However, most websites consist predominantly of text so those who are visually-impaired can already use screen readers, which use Text-To-Speech functionality, to convert text to audio.

Final thoughts…

Technologies already exist that can help us as project professionals raise awareness of the need and benefits of accessibility in our IT projects but also, crucially, how accessibility can be built into new IT projects right now. The potential is already there to make IT more inclusive, but are you using it? Let us know in the comments.

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About the Author

Chris Broderick

Chris Broderick is the Managing Director of Matinée Multilingual. He has over 25 years’ experience specialising in projects such as transcribing audio and video programmes, translating voice-over scripts and captions, adding subtitles, and anything else that enables companies to communicate their message in any language and to every type of audience.


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