Stepping into Accessibilities’ Shoes

At Interactive Accessibility we have a dedicated team that works hard to produce the best services possible for our clients. Most of our time is spent in “head down” work mode – just like any other team producing products or service they’re proud of. Every so often, one of us pops our head out of the fog of a busy workday and remembers just why we have dedicated ourselves to accessibility.

The other day an email from my co-worker Kurt slipped its way between the client emails in my inbox. In it a link to a story about Nike beckoned me break work focus in favor of this minor but welcome distraction. Kurt had found a story about Nike creating shoes for people with special needs. The article had tickled his sensibilities and reminded him why he works hard every day helping to create a web that is inclusive of everyone, so he shared it.

As I read through the article and learned how Matthew Walzer, a teenager with cerebral palsy, took the initiative to write Nike and ask them to make a shoe that was more accessible, I cracked a smiled for the young man’s assertiveness. As I read on, I became filled with admiration for Nike designer, Tobie Hatfield, who turned his craft toward Matthew’s request and worked with the young man for three years to accomplish the goal of a more accessible shoe. For me good business had met with good hearts and good things were happening.

In our world of digital accessibility this is what we see every day: a business need driving a company to create an accessible website which, in turn, opens up more business related benefits than expected and, yes, helps more people than expected.  One esoteric hand washing the other. What is interesting is that nobody sees it this way at first. They look through a straw directly at the problem they need to solve. We as accessibility professionals smile knowing they are about to open up more good than they expect.

Here is what I mean. A business may choose to make their site accessible to solve one of these issues:

  • They are selling to the government, which requires that they comply with Section 508.
  • They are concerned with recent litigation involving the ADA and wish to mitigate their own legal exposure.

There are of course many other reasons, but let’s look at these for the purpose of this discussion.  These are both very common and very specific reasons. As you can imagine, anyone faced with these problems would be laser focused on solving them, just like Mr. Hatfield was focused for three years on engineering a shoe that people who had similar challenges as Mathew could put on independently and with relative ease.

Here’s the thing, when I saw Mr. Hatfield’s FLYEASE design – a diagonal zipper that partially circumnavigates the heal of the shoe, allowing the back to open so the foot can easily be slipped in - it didn’t strike me as a feature that was just for Matthew or folks with similar needs to him. I flashed back to my grandfather who when he got older installed seats in his shower so he could get to his feet to wash them. He was just old and having a rough time reaching his feet. What would he have thought of the FLYEASE system? When I hurt my back a few months ago, I had to lie on the bed with my feet in the air and balance my shoes on my toes. It then took me several minutes to get them pulled over my heal. FLYEASE? Yes please!

So the question is, for Mr. Hatfield’s three years of focus on Matthew’s need what has he created? A solution for Matthew or something better for many people? It benefits many people, not necessarily just people we would typically say have a disability. Now think about this: Is FLYEASE design a faster way for a triathlete to get a well fitted athletic shoe on quickly when they’re coming out of the water and switching to the next event? Really? Could a feature that started out for someone with a disability benefit someone as highly capable as a triathlete?

Let’s look back at that website that was made accessible for one of our two reasons: to do business with the government or to mitigate legal risk. Now that we have addressed those motivations for doing the work, what do we have? Just a website that solves one of these problems? No. Here’s what we have: A website that:

  • Opens our customer base up to all people with disabilities (a segment of the population that is larger than the population of many countries.)
  • Can be used by anyone with a temporary disability (broken hand, etc.)
  • Can be better seen on a mobile devise in bright sunlight.
  • Is optimized better for search engines. (Search engines can’t see and preserve content, just like a person who is blind.)
  • Is easier for everyone to navigate
  • Is easier for everyone to perceive.
  • Has a more pleasant experience for all users and encourages repeat visitors.

What we here at Interactive Accessibility see every day is people doing something for a specific reason and unwittingly making things better for many. Just like we poke our heads out of the fog of every-day work and remember why we do this work, we want our customer to be able to look past their specific reason for engaging with us and realize all the ways they help their organization and its customers.

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