Make Accessibility a Priority When Developing Software

Developers and engineers always need to take accessibility into account when building software. Unfortunately, accessibility features are sometimes cast by the wayside during a crunchy production schedule. How can the software industry ensure that teams pay greater attention to the needs of users with disabilities?

In the context of gaming, Microsoft is attempting to answer that question with updates to its Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, including a new way for developers to have their games evaluated for any accessibility issues. “Developers now have the option to send Microsoft their Xbox or PC title and have it analyzed and validated against the recommendations provided in the XAGs,” reads Microsoft’s blog posting on the matter. “Where issues are found, they are noted with reproduction steps, screenshots, and other information to help the developer understand what aspect of a given experience may be challenging for certain gamers with disabilities.”

These reports also include “additional information such as links to gaming accessibility and inclusive design documentation, non-profits and industry-recognized subject matter experts, platform-specific technical documentation, and more.” Gamers with disabilities participate in the testing and provide feedback.

There’s a business aspect to this push for accessibility: Games accessible to everyone will likely sell more. As Xbox competes with PlayStation and other ecosystems, maximum accessibility is more strategically important than ever. 

Accessibility Resources

Accessibility is a prime consideration for every type of software, of course. If you’re a mobile developer, you should pay attention to Android’s accessibility features, as well as those for iOS. Microsoft also has an online hub devoted to the documentation and tools necessary to integrate accessibility features into its core products, including Office and Windows. 

If you’re a web developer, w3.org has plenty of resources for developing for web accessibility, including a Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) overview. The American Foundation for the Blind also offers quick guides and resources for web accessibility, as does the University of Washington.

This U.S. General Services Administration page is likewise worth reading, as it covers Revised 508 Standards (which deal with accessibility) and includes significant testing guidance for developers (such as a breakdown of automated vs. manual testing for accessibility). 

Whatever resources you rely on, keep in mind that not everyone using your software is abled in the same ways. Whether you’re building games or enterprise software, take the time to make accessibility a priority.