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The ROI of design and development collaboration in digital accessibility

Illustration of designers and developers working on screens with accessibility icons surrounding them
Illustration by Sarah Kula Marketing Designer

Working on accessibility initiatives is a noble, necessary effort—but it’s not without its challenges. One of the main obstacles in incorporating accessibility (or a11y as it’s sometimes written) in your projects and products is asynchronicity between teams. 

Your design team may put together beautiful, compliant designs, but those same designs may break down when they get to development because of inherent implementation issues. The designs may just not be practical. Or designs may be completed, but they have accessibility issues, and your development team isn’t raising the problem because they’re out of hours.

As an added factor, your development and design teams may not have the same knowledge base about integrating digital accessibility best practices in their work. In either case, you’re dealing with late-stage pushback, scope creep, and Q4 headaches.

One of the best ways to get around this is by involving your development team in design conversations from the start. There are many benefits to allocating more resources at the beginning of the project, and the return on investment can be significant. Here, we’ll talk about some of the benefits of fostering a collaborative relationship between design and development in accessibility efforts.

The three main benefits to design and development collaboration 

1. Save time and money

As we mentioned earlier, bringing in development early and often drives efficiency. Your team can work more cohesively from the start, and you don’t have to keep revisiting the same issues repeatedly. This streamlines your effort—and your budget. 

2. Operational benefits

Operationally, design and development working in parallel help your project move forward faster and have a shorter development and design time. This cross-functional way of working also drives a cross-pollination of ideas. It increases creativity as each team member is exposed to new ideas and ways of working.

3. Increase morale

Everyone is happier when they can work more efficiently. Sharing ideas promotes diversity and maximizes your knowledge, leading to a better end product for the user. This is not only good for your timeline but good for morale.

More practical benefits to collaborating on digital accessibility initiatives

Aside from just making the whole process run more smoothly, there are some concrete ways that design and development can collaborate to make digital tools accessible:

    • Implementing themes across all UI elements (light and dark), including components like contrast, font sizes, touch targets, etc.
    • Scaling content so it can be viewed easily at up to twice its width and height (200%)
    • Functionality and structural items like IA, menus, workflows, etc.
    • Keyboard navigation design and implementation
    • Screen reader design and implementation
    • Fixing accessibility in code by implementing fixes into the code base and working with QA to test new code
    • Reducing motion to ensure web animations are accessible
    • Testing implementation automatically and manually to ensure accessibility standards are met

As you can see, this cross-functional collaboration has concrete results that your users will be able to see and directly benefit from.

Working in parallel is good for everyone, just like accessibility

Ensuring your product is accessible is vital to its success. When integrating accessibility into a project, most teams start with design and bring in development several sprints later, but this can introduce even more challenges to the process. 

Incorporating development into the design process and developing a collaborative relationship between the two practices can produce beneficial components your users will love. But it also saves your team time and money, and increases team productivity and morale. That’s a win anyone can appreciate.

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