The Missing Twenty: A Discussion with Jonathan Hassell

Missing 20 Book Cover ImageI have something exciting to announce.

A new book on digital accessibility has hit the shelves. Released in November, Including Your Missing 20% by Embedding Web and Mobile Accessibility was written by Professor Jonathan Hassell, an expert on digital accessibility and inclusion. He’s the director of the London-based consultancy Hassell Inclusion, and is the lead author of the BS 8878 British Standard on Web Accessibility.

But what makes this release particularly exciting for me is that Jonathan and I met months ago to do an interview for the book – and now I can finally tell you about it! In fact, not only is the interview included in the book itself, but will be released on YouTube soon for everyone to see – stay tuned!

Who is the 20 Percent?

What does Jonathan mean by “Your Missing 20%”? It’s simple. Almost 20 percent of the world’s population has some kind of disability, so that’s the market – and potential revenue – companies are ignoring when they don’t consider accessibility or the needs of the disabled in their digital offerings. They’re completely missing out on a segment of the population that is often tech-savvy and has disposable income to spend. It’s a group that can also be very loyal once they do find a company that meets their accessibility needs.

Jonathan’s book looks at the real benefits of reaching out to this audience – not just to avoid lawsuits, but in order to penetrate a new market. “It’s about recognizing that no product is ever going to be usable to all users, and finding a reasonable, justifiable way of balancing the resource costs of inclusion against the benefits. And it’s about letting your users know when you’ve not been able to fully support their needs,” the book’s summary relays. “Fundamentally, it’s about understanding the challenges of inclusion, and solving them in creative ways, to gain a bigger audience so your product is more successful.”

Talking Inclusion

During my interview with Jonathan, we focused on PDF accessibility, and the need for PDFs that are accessible to the disabled community, including the blind and visually impaired. We talked about my own personal interest in the subject, and how that evolved, and then Jonathan asked about bank statements and other transactional type customer communications – PDF documents that many of us rely on in today’s digital world.

These are often the documents we require when applying for a mortgage or buying a car, or for any number of other tasks that require an official record. If you’re visually impaired, though, you don’t want to ask for sighted assistance to read through your personal documents to track down the information you need. That’s an invasion of privacy no one would enjoy. You want to be able to get to those official records yourself. And the answer is accessible PDFs.

Accessible PDFs are readable through screen reader technology, and can also act as an official statement of record for bank transactions, insurance claims, etc. But for companies, manually tagging those PDFs to make them accessible is time consuming and labor intensive. Yet a screen reader needs to know how to read the document, and someone has to tell it.

Someone, that is, or something. Because, as I explained to Jonathan, a more scalable solution is one that uses technology to automatically offer accessibility on-demand.

Accessible Solutions

For companies creating high-volume documents, the ideal tool would allow you to assign all the accessibility rules just one time and have the technology solution build high-volume documents from there, even with all the  individualized data attached. This type of technology is adjustable to the needs of governments, insurance groups, telecommunications companies, banks, and any company  that sends out high-volume, repeatable (transactional) documents. It allows those who are blind and visually impaired to automatically access documents digitally – and instantly, the same way everyone else does. There is no need for someone to manually convert each document and for the end user to wait for it to arrive. In other words, companies are meeting the needs of the 20%, without huge costs financially.

Jonathan and I had a great opportunity to discuss all of this. But he finished the interview by asking a final question. “Is there one opportunity or threat to the accessibility of web content for people with disabilities that you think will be most important in the future?” he asked.

Want to know my answer? The video of our interview is available here, but you can read the book right now to find out.

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