crowds of people looking around a museum

After spending an amazing day with some accessibility experts, this was one of the final comments directed towards me.

“It’s really rare to see UX considering accessibility.”

For a bit of background; recently the product I’ve been working on was given a thorough independent accessibility review. We were striving to be WCAG AA compliant. Our report was extremely positive, with only a couple of advisories. We were over the moon!

However this comment lingered in my mind.

“It’s really rare to see UX considering accessibility”. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to probe into his comment, I can only assume this person has dealt with difficult product teams or UX professionals in particular. It is almost as if those teams/people are seeing accessibility as something that negatively impacts the design, takes too long, costs too much, is not worth considering or simply assuming it will negatively affect the experience of someone who doesn’t have a disability.

Accessibility is not the same as usability, but it does live under the vast user experience umbrella and should always be considered when building towards an awesome experience for everyone. The need to understand the people using our product is so important to deliver a great experience, and when we don’t consider everyone, how can we say we are building those great experiences?

A few days after ‘the comment’, NN/g posted an article on Sympathy vs Empathy in UX, which summed up the feelings I was experiencing at the time. Sarah Gibbons, the author of the article, highlights the ‘Spectrum of empathy’ and gives you tips on how to move away from sympathy towards empathy when focusing on products and services. To summarise:

“The spectrum of empathy includes pity, sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Pity and sympathy require little to no effort or understanding, while empathy and compassion require effort to understand and engagement to produce a positive change.”

visual showing that it takes more effort to build greater empathy

Having a disability does not always start from birth, it can be health or age related. It could come and go during a person’s lifetime, so assuming your users don’t have disabilities could be detrimental to creating a positive experience when using your product. Designing new patterns or interactions with compassion and understanding for all of our users can only help our products and services to be better.

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