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Accessibility isn't a feature

2 minutes read

This email is part of a larger series on believing six impossible things before breakfast.

Yesterday, we talked about how people with disabilities are not a minority. Today, we'll tackle the next impossible thing on our list.

Accessibility isn't a feature

Perhaps it'd be good to start with a definition. A product feature is a specific function of your product that provides value to your customers. It's usually something self-contained, a discrete area of your product that you can market and sell. It could be something that you turn on and off per different tier of paying customers.

Here are some examples of product features:

  • Share links to your files in Dropbox
  • Labels in your Gmail account
  • Increased tweet length in X
  • Advanced search queries in JIRA

You don't need any of these features if you want to use that product. You can still store files in Dropbox without sharing them, send and receive emails without labeling them in any way, tweet on X and quick search in JIRA without the added benefits of more characters or advanced filters.

They are optional. Useful, yes. But these are features that were tacked on to the main product offering. They were optional at launch.

Saying that accessibility is a feature makes it optional.

If you think accessibility is a feature, then so are security and privacy. And yet, I've never heard that argument before. I can't imagine using a bank that offers an optional password to secure my online account. Just as I wouldn't accept the local city registry offering up my personal ID to passers-by.

We take security and privacy for granted. They're not features, they're the foundation upon which we build products and services. Accessibility is no different.

Saying that accessibility is a feature also makes it seem like a discrete thing - a ticket in your backlog.

Instead, I encourage you to look at accessibility as a continuous practice. It's something you need to pay attention to and work on as you develop those new features for your product.

I say develop new features, but it doesn't mean it's only developers that are involved.

And that's because accessibility isn't a technical problem.

We'll talk about that tomorrow. See you then!

Did you enjoy this bite-sized message?

I send out short emails like this every day to help you gain a fresh perspective on accessibility and understand it without the jargon, so you can build more robust products that everyone can use, including people with disabilities.

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