Why accessibility matters—and how to make it work

Accessibility in innovation should be top of mind for present-day developers. 

A diverse group of people on stage with a background reading, "Technology as an innovative catalyst for people with disabilities.:
A diverse group of people on stage with a background reading, "Technology as an innovative catalyst for people with disabilities.:

According to the World Health Organization, 1.3 billion people have physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities. They need assistive technology such as screen readers, braille displays, text-to-speech systems, and large fonts to help them use web, desktop and mobile applications. 

The stats published by the World Health Organization are critical to the global software community because developers make products for people to use. If these products don’t work well with assistive technology, they are out of reach to many people. That’s why accessibility in innovation should be top of mind for present-day developers. 

Make accessibility a natural fit for innovation 

An intuitive product is easy to use and accessible for everyone. “Giving users the independence to access a service or product without barriers is a big win for developers. Inclusive products are accessible for all users, particularly groups who find it difficult to use a specific interface or navigate a page due to impairments,” says Ted Drake, accessibility and inclusive design leader at Intuit. 

The term—for all users—is fundamental to Intuit’s innovation. Intuit developers are applying accessibility principles into their design requirements and code reviews from the beginning. That allows them to focus on innovation from a technology standpoint—such as building a new workflow to pull data, use AI to drive new processes, or improve the accessibility of a product for better customer experience. 

Intuit developers are exploring and experimenting with ideas for improving QuickBooks and TurboTax experience for customers who have long Covid, which is recognized as a disability by the World Health Organization.  In the past year, they have driven significant accessibility improvements including a 86 percent reduction in accessibility issues.

Build on customer empathy for new innovation

People with disabilities often find it challenging to meet their needs with technology. But they tend to be creative thinkers because they overcome new barriers every day. Engaging with diverse customers, including those with disabilities can give rise to a lot of innovation. 

At Intuit, developers conduct Follow Me Home to observe customers in their natural environment. They interview customers and seek feedback from them to make product improvements. Keeping the feedback loop open allows them to learn about product functionality, how customers are using new features and challenges along the way. 

In November, Ted did a Follow Me Home with a customer who uses a screen reader. Based outside of London, the customer had trouble sending an invoice to a company through email. He was unable to input multiple recipients in the ‘to field’ due to character limit. He reached out to Ted through Intuit’s accessibility feedback, available for customers who use Quickbooks and TurboTax.

“Although the identified issue was not related to assistive technology, it can be interpreted as an accessibility issue, affecting many people,” says Ted. “We use such opportunities to solve for one customer and extend it to many.” 

Design products that can be used by those who use assistive tech 

It is easy to take a UI design, write code, and make it look the way the designer imagined it. But the real challenge is to make sure those designs are also suited for a wide range of customers, including those who use assistive technology. 

Intuit developers take all aspects of design into account. How does the structure of the page work for people with motion sickness? Can people interact with the product by using a voice over or braille keyboard?  “If we think about designing a product from the core of what it is and who it is for, we are building a better product. Then the engineering team works on the design to bring the product to life,” Ted says.

In another example, Intuit developers are working on a motion and animation studio. The studio creates dynamic movements on a web page or within a product. But the problem is that some people get sick when there is  too much animation on the page. The developers that were working on the initiative reached out to the Intuit Abilities Network to understand about motion sickness—and how they can build accessibility into the page. The developers and network leaders identified a colleague with vestibular disability, a disorder that often affects the inner ear and helps the body maintain balance. Not only was the team able to gain empathy for what the individual was going through but they worked closely to create an inclusive product page. Intuit products can now  recognize when a person toggles the switch on their phone to reduce or turn off animation. It is like creating a new motion experience customized to their preferences.

Share learnings to empower communities 

Accessibility practices continue to advance in new and meaningful ways. The global software community is doing more to share their learnings.  And how to make products accessible for everyone. As a company we want to do our part. That’s why Intuit is moving in the right direction—sharing non-proprietary information on the why and how aspects of accessibility. 

Once developers understand the problems that make their product less accessible, half the battle is solved. Then it is a matter of making changes to lines of code to improve accessibility in products and support people who use assistive technology. Thanks to Ted and the engineering community, Intuit shares information about accessibility and inclusive design in its products.

Sharing learnings also means empowering people in the disability community. And it distributes knowledge in the global software community. Afsaneh Esteki, SW engineer at Intuit, observed a problem with illustrations within QuickBooks when using high contrast themes in Microsoft Windows. She published an article: Accessibility in logos: design with accessibility in mind which explains the problems and solutions for customers who use high contrast settings on their computers. She explains a rather complex issue of using scalable vector graphics (SVG) files and making them accessible for all users. 

Over the years, Intuit teams dove into topics—and shared them on Intuit blog, Intuit Medium, and YouTube. These topics include how to make wearable devices accessible to people, technology by people with sickle cell disease, and understanding inclusive design. Now the team is researching intersectionality and diversity.

In November, Intuit India held the accessibility summit which brought together technology organizations and subject matter experts to share their knowledge on building inclusive experiences. The development teams at Intuit are incredibly proud of the progress made to date, and for the insights provided by customers. Want to come help us build accessible products? Check our open positions to join us.