woman coding on laptop, Code First Girls

Accessible digital experiences improve digital inclusion 

Article by Inge De Bleecker, Vice President of CX at Applause

woman coding on laptop, Code First GirlsMost people are probably unaware of the need for digital inclusion or the great work that is being done in this area to ensure digital accessibility for all.

Businesses and public sector organisations should keep all users in mind when designing digital experiences like mobile apps and websites. And while much of the attention on digital accessibility is often paid to lawsuits and the costs of non-compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses should remember that the point of digital accessibility – much like physical accessibility measures like wheelchair ramps, designated parking and Braille touchpads – is to provide a usable and enjoyable experience to every person, regardless of ability.

The importance of digital accessibility cannot be understated, as fifteen percent of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) live with some form of disability, and the annual disposable income of the global population of persons with disabilities is approximately $1.2 trillion. (There also needs to be consideration for those that have a temporary disability like a broken arm or even those who have lost their glasses). The entire world has seen their reliance on digital assets grow as the COVID-19 pandemic forced consumers to change their shopping habits and move to more online preferences, and the same can be said for those with disabilities.

Luckily, it seems that businesses have recognized the impact of the pandemic on persons with disabilities and have looked to make digital accessibility more of a priority as a result. That’s according to a market research survey that my company, Applause, ran in early May 2021.

The global survey of more than 1,800 engineering, QA, product, DevOps, marketing, CX/UX and legal professionals found that over 68% of respondents said their company is prioritizing digital accessibility now more than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That percentage becomes even larger when looking at larger companies (with 1,000+ employees), with 73.5% saying digital accessibility is now a bigger priority for them.

This increased awareness of digital accessibility throughout an organization is encouraging; however, according to the survey respondents, there is still a lot of progress left to be made. In fact, over half (57.4%) of the engineers who responded to the survey said that they only sometimes, rarely or never write code with accessibility in mind. Not only can that impact the overall accessibility and usability of a website or mobile app, but it can cost businesses in the long run as fixing accessibility issues after the fact is much more time-consuming and expensive than building the code the right way at the outset.

While engineers admittedly still have work to do, there is good news on the product front – more than three-quarters of product managers say they are working accessibility into their design plans at the earliest stages of development, which is a critical step in building inclusive experiences. Similarly UX researchers are increasingly including people with disabilities in usability testing and gathering user feedback that is in turn used to improve the experience, often for everyone’s benefit.

Clearly, there is still a long way to go, but it is encouraging to see more businesses are paying attention to the needs of all their users and are actively looking to improve digital accessibility. Ultimately, accessibility is for everyone and it should not be framed solely as a means of avoiding litigation. As Forrester’s Gina Bhawalkar wrote in her May 2021 research, Q&A: Getting Started with Digital Accessibility, “accessibility really takes hold in an organization when it is framed as an opportunity, not a legal obligation.”


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Inspirational Woman: Inge De Bleecker | Vice President of CX, Applause

Inge De BleeckerI am a user experience (UX) professional. I design and evaluate digital products to make sure they are easy to use for everyone.

I currently lead a team of global UX researchers as the Vice President of CX at Applause, the worldwide leader in enabling digital quality. I’ve also written a book on UX -- Remote Usability Testing: Actionable Insights in User Behavior Across Geographies and Time Zones -- and created a benchmarking score system called USERindex with my friend and colleague Rebecca Okoroji. I grew up and went to university in Belgium, then moved to Southern China and now live in Texas in the United States.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did not sit down and plan my career, no. I think it’s difficult for young people to plan their career unless they are focused on a traditional profession such as physician, lawyer or teacher. Not all that long ago, the term “user experience” didn’t exist and the subject matter itself was barely a thing. I tumbled into the field, just like everyone else at that time did. I’ve worked in technology my whole life. Funny thing is that, in high school, I hated computers! I really didn’t plan this…

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Everyone faces challenges along the way, and I wouldn’t say that I’ve encountered more challenges than average.

A challenge I’ve encountered is burnout. Most jobs are demanding as is, and it is all too easy to put even more stress on oneself. I regularly coach people in the field on avoiding burnout. It’s tough: user experience is a happening field these days, which means there is competition for choice roles. Many UX professionals hold advanced degrees, and it has become more important to fill your resume with household technology company names. For many, burnout is just around the corner.

Negativity from co-workers or your work environment can be a real challenge as well. There are two ways to deal with this: prove these people wrong and turn them into fans, or cut toxic people out of your life and make the conscious choice to get something better for yourself.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

That’s a good question.

Over the past 15 years I’ve built and fixed UX teams. Those are certainly career achievements. On a more personal career-oriented level, co-writing and publishing a book was a great experience and something I’m proud of.

But perhaps career achievement, when we look at it from the satisfaction angle, is not so much about one or a few big achievements, but more about many little things. Becoming proficient at all aspects of my craft, and continuing to work on improving, is what I would call my “biggest” career achievement.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Success can rarely be achieved in a vacuum. Instead, work with others. For instance, at one point, I had a small team and no budget. I evangelized the value of UX and asked teams to help out, effectively creating an ecosystem with many teams cooperating and providing some of their budget to make things happen.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

My three top tips: work hard because nothing comes for free in life, stay curious because every day there’s so much new to learn, but bring balance in your life so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I think most people will perceive barriers of sorts in their career, whether social, economic, gender-based, or other. One way to overcome barriers that I’ve used throughout is to ignore the barrier. If you don’t acknowledge it, you’re not playing into it.

If there is a barrier, it’s because someone or a group of people put that barrier in place. Don’t acknowledge those rules, just do what you see as best. People will start seeing you for the person you are and the value you bring, rather than seeing you as a woman first and foremost.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

We’re seeing some positive changes that help make it easier to combine life and the workplace. I believe it is very important for companies to continue that trend.

What do you wish you had known when you started your career?

Early on in my career I struggled with whether I wanted to get a Ph.D. I waffled and waited and finally went ahead…about 6 years later than would have been ideal. When my Ph.D., part-time job and starting a family all happened at once, it was too much. The Ph.D. had to go…It was the right choice (I went back to a full-time tech job) and I learned a lot but I will always regret not finishing something I started. Had I known that the Ph.D. would be challenging to combine with other parts of my life, I would have started it much earlier.


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