Signs and Buttons Alone Don’t Make a Building Accessible

The following post was written by Rick Baker, a senior accessibility strategist at Microsoft with more than 25 years of experience making technology easier for people. He helps teams across Microsoft understand and implement accessible products for everyone.


Even a well-intended accessibility feature can’t help people if it is not designed correctly.

I recently visited a relative at a care facility and was greeted at the visitors entrance by a sign with a wheelchair icon that read: “To Enter: Please push large handicap button to your far right on the wall, then you can PULL open the door.” I wondered if the person who installed that door ever tested it. If you pushed that lovely button and tried to pull open the door, while maneuvering in a wheelchair on a tiny porch, you would be forced into a nearby flowerbed to make room for the door to get past you.

It is a nice care facility, with doors at the main entrance that open automatically for wheelchair users.  But, those doors are on the other side of the building from the visitors entrance. The designers of the button obviously meant well and thought they made it easier for people to open the door. Pulling a door from a wheelchair, however, is not easy, especially on a tiny porch.

The button probably met a requirement to assist wheelchair users in unlocking the door. But, a door that automatically opens would have been much better and more usable than that button. If the designers had simply tested their approach from a user perspective, or designed for a broader audience, they would have seen the problem. Their door would have benefited everyone, including visitors in wheelchairs and those with their hands full of packages.

The door reminded me how many designers add accessibility features to a product that meet a single requirement but barely benefit users, even though the same effort could make a product far more usable. On Microsoft’s accessibility team we continuously encourage product teams to think beyond a single accessibility feature, and instead focus on broad usability. Don’t just install a button. Instead, use the opportunity to create a product that appeals to everyone. Open the doors for everyone so they can use your product simply and elegantly.

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