Having been years since we were last up at Ferris to talk to the design program, we were excited to travel north to Big Rapids to our old stomping grounds. Even more so because we started planning an accessibility event like this since pre-Covid. So having it come to fruition at all was an accomplishment in and of itself.
The Ferris design program has evolved quite a bit since we attended there (yikes, are we getting old?), but still carries the same core principles of teaching students to be business-minded in their processes and to do the legwork of good research to build a solid foundation for the final designed product. But as jam-packed as the curriculum is with useful knowledge, it's impossible to cover it all. This is why they make a point to partner with local designers, print shops, and developers in the area to see some real-world work happening and gain new perspectives. Our visit was part of one such initiative.
Accessibility is one of those things that touches every part of design and development, and because of that, should be considered in all parts of the process. While accessibility can be a hard sell to some clients, time and again it's been proven that incorporating it throughout is much cheaper in the long run than trying to fix problems introduced along the way (or, you know, getting sued for said problems).
Since we could talk about accessibility for days, and we were talking to students that live more in the world of design than development, we knew we had to try and narrow our talk to key, relevant concepts. So during our presentation, we focused on three things: what accessibility is, how to incorporate it into UX thinking, and considerations in design.
Accessibility is a journey. We went from getting caught up in automated testing and "checking all the boxes" to asking the questions "how would a real person with a disability interact with this? What can we do to create an efficient, delightful experience for them?" As we looked around, seeing the expressions of abject horror on the students' faces as they saw how many WCAG issues were found on many popular websites they know and love, it was clear that for most of them, this was the very beginning of that accessibility journey. With any luck, we gave them the tools and resources to continue that journey and become accessibility advocates who always incorporate best practices into their design, UX, and development work.
Only time will tell!