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Building an accessible product: Our journey so far

Digital accessibility has never been more important – especially in the world of transit and mobility. Here’s what Spare is doing to make our technology and design accessible and inclusive for people of all abilities.

Rebecca Liggins

Many apps are not created with all users in mind, which can make them difficult, and at times impossible for people with disabilities to use.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 61 million American adults are living with some sort of disability In Canada, meanwhile, 22% of Canadians over the age of 15 have one or more disabilities.

In the world of technology, accessibility means that “everyone can use the exact same technology as anyone else—regardless of whether they can manipulate a mouse, how much vision they have, how many colours they can see, how much they can hear, or how they process information,” according to The Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology.

Recent technological advances are making accessible experiences a reality. Transit authority TransLink in Vancouver, British Columbia recently launched its Access Transit program to enable accessibility across both its standard fleet and its HandyDART mobility buses.

Projects like this and BART Maps show that technology can indeed make transportation and mobility systems more accessible for people with disabilities.

Why Digital Accessibility Matters

The World Health Organization defines a disability as a “mismatched interaction between the features of a person’s body and the features of the environment in which they live.”

Different types of disabilities

In the past, disabilities were conceived of as physical, mental or learning limitations experienced by particular individuals. But this definition of disability reframes the notion of a disability as an environmental limitation, not an individual one. And in an increasingly digitized world where online and offline experiences are continuing to merge, it’s becoming more important for accessibility initiatives to design digital experiences that are usable and delightful for all possible users, regardless of their ability or disability.

Digital accessibility is about making the online world as accessible as the offline world. It’s the means through which websites and apps are rendered usable for people across the entire disability spectrum. For instance, you could make your website more accessible for colourblind users by implementing accessible colour palettes. The ultimate goal of digital accessibility in technology is to enable people with permanent disabilities and/or temporary limitations, as well as senior citizens and other underserved populations, to be more fully participate in society.

Digital accessibility isn’t just a moral ideal; it’s good business. Many of the principles of accessibility are also principles of effective product strategy, design and development – and that means making products more accessible for people with disabilities also creates a better user experience overall.

Digital accessibility is also critical for US-based companies (or companies that conduct business in the US) that want to meet their legal obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA sets clear requirements for how digital services, websites, and apps must behave; companies that fail to adhere to these standards are at risk of a discrimination lawsuit.

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) follows similar regulations for public and private businesses in the EU, and in Canada, businesses can follow the Accessible Canada Act.

What Accessibility Looks Like at Spare Labs

Transit is for everyone, regardless of age, disability, or access to technology. At Spare, our work is guided by our mission ‘to unlock the full potential of mobility for everyone. We believe that when accessibility comes first, technology truly starts to work for everyone. This means creating a more inclusive and accessible technology that makes it simple for everyone to access transit and move around.

“In software, we think about accessibility as focused on people with disabilities or impairments who are often excluded from digital experiences. This becomes even more important in transit because we're talking about freedom. If someone who is blind or visually impaired can't get to the grocery store because they can’t navigate the transit system, that's a real failure” - Rebecca Liggins, Senior Product Designer, Spare.

Accessibility is baked into our product design from the start. We believe that accessible experiences are the product of intentional design. It’s the product of a development process that includes people with a diverse range of accessibility needs, that consults with these people early and often.

  • Inclusive research: The first step in our accessibility-informed design process is inclusive research. Our team conducts research and usability tests with a range of different riders and transit employees to get a wide understanding of different experiences, challenges and needs. As much of the innovation in accessibility technology has come from people with accessibility challenges, we work with the end users to inform the development of our accessibility features. For us, improving accessibility means using our services and studying our users to proactively find and root out problems.

  • WCAG standards: Our team follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 guidelines which define a set of guidelines that designers and developers should meet to make web content more accessible for people with disabilities. We are focused on achieving the gold standard in web accessibility to help ensure transit services can comply with the ADA in a simple and streamlined way

  • Design for all users: We know it’s not just riders who need easy-to-use mobility services. Spare aims to provide an easy and accessible platform for anyone using it, be it the rider, driver or transit operator.
Spare supports accessibility in its admin portal, driver and rider apps

Whether it’s a bus, a subway train, a taxi, or a ride hailed through an app like Uber or Lyft, transit is more than just about how people get around. It’s about how people from all walks of life interact with the world around them. We design our services and technology to make it easy to use for riders with different needs.

Spare is committed to creating a world where accessibility drives innovation rather than taking a backseat. Whether it’s a mobility issue, a sensory processing disorder, or something else entirely, no rider should have to struggle just to get around.

Read about our commitment to accessibility and ways to provide feedback or questions in our More information about Spare’s accessibility initiatives can be found in our Statement of Accessibility.