The next normal of work, school, and life with accessibility and usability in mind

Understood
3 min readJun 3, 2021

Summer is here, vaccines are widely available in the U.S., and remote employees are trickling back to the office. For many, life feels like it’s getting back to normal.

But one thing is clear: What’s considered “normal” has changed.

Before the pandemic, our digital and physical lives were slowly merging. Now, any remaining barriers have broken down. The pandemic gave us the urgent project of bringing our lives online in creative ways. While it may not be someone’s first choice to attend a wedding or complete a hiring process remotely, it’s no longer unthinkable. So even as masks come off, it’s likely that many spheres of life will be more of a digital-physical “hybrid” than before.

This version of normal now gives us another urgent project. We must build accessibility and usability into our digital and physical lives.

The word “accessibility” has long been a part of the conversation in workplaces, schools, and life. But it’s only recently that mainstream definitions of accessibility have started to also include neurodiversity.
The 1 in 5 people with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia have often been left behind.

As we continue to merge our digital and physical lives, it’s not enough to merely comply with today’s accessibility standards. The goal shouldn’t just be equal access. To account for all kinds of differences, the goal should be to make products accessible to all and to make them easy to understand and use.

For example, current web accessibility standards provide guidance for making text more readable for people with low vision. But reading text is only one step toward truly using the material. People who struggle with focus or processing language can benefit from layouts that offer bullet points, for example.

We need to consider this in our physical spaces, too. As offices and schools reopen, they could provide more flexible spaces for people to sit, stand, and move around. Simple changes to lighting and sound can promote focus and concentration. And accommodations should be a standard part of the conversation about any return to a physical space.

These changes don’t only benefit users with learning and thinking differences. We can build on the successes of universal design to make products work better for everyone. Curb cuts are a famous example — they work for wheelchair users, and they also help people with bikes or strollers. The same principle applies when designing for neurodiverse users. A solution to help with focus or recall, for example, can offer a better experience for all.

At Understood, we’re building new standards to combine accessibility and usability. This year, we’re working with the World Wide Web Consortium to develop new standards that consider the spectrum of neurodiversity. And as the definition of “normal” life continues to evolve, we’ll keep working to make digital and physical spaces more inclusive for everyone.

Learn more about Understood’s commitment to accessibility and usability, including our work with the World Wide Web Consortium to develop new standards for users who learn and think differently.

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