We focus a lot of attention on accessibility of websites and web content. There are several resources out there, from Knowbility’s accessibility training and consulting services to actual guides, such as the book “Maximum Accessibility,” written by Sharron Rush and John Slatin. But recently, the question was raised about hardware accessibility. Are there standards out there to make technologies not related to the internet accessible? Are there any resources available to guide manufacturers who want to make their products accessible to people with disabilities? While there are some areas within Section 508 that talk about hardware accessibility, the bulk of the law is concerned with websites.
So what if you are a developer of a peace of hardware and you want to make it accessible? What resources did Apple use when making accessibility decisions for the iPod, iPhone, and even the MAC? There are some areas on the web that offer a bit of guidance as to what requirements there are for hardware accessibility. However, while the needs are there, the how to info is not.
Perhaps the best answer to this dilemma is to seek out those who have succeeded in making their hardware accessible. Many companies such as Apple now have a few people or even an entire department dedicated to accessibility. Contacting them and finding out what if any guidelines they used may be a very helpful endeavor. Of course the majority of companies do not have accessibility experts and don’t even realize there is a need for it. In that situation, educating them about the huge importance of accessibility and the impact it can have on their business is key.
While I don’t think I was much help in answering this question, I think we can all help to advocate for accessible hardware, much the same way we do for accessible internet. The more companies come out with the latest and greatest in hardware, the bigger need there is for them to incorporate accessibility in their designs. With as much work as we have done to break down barriers that people with disabilities face, the last thing we want is a ton of inaccessible hardware out there putting them up again!