Make your bot accessible


Make sure your bot can be used by the widest range of people possible.

Bots should benefit everyone — but “everyone” is a large category. So it stands to reason that bots can only benefit everyone, or the widest possible number of people, if they're designed to be inclusive and accessible to people of all abilities.

Designing for accessibility

Bots should be designed from the ground up to respect the full range of human abilities. The pool of potential users for any bot application includes huge variation in potential interaction abilities. Therefore, your bot, and the interface for it, should be able to be used by people with disabilities, including users of assistive technology.

When you’re designing your bot, you can assess how it will comply with the international web accessibility standard WCAG 2.0 AA, and U.S. Section 508 and EN 301 549 standards. Doing so will help users who:

  • Rely on-screen readers
  • Navigate UI using only keyboards
  • Are hard of hearing
  • Require color contrast or can't distinguish between colors.
  • Have other visual impairments
  • Have epilepsy
  • Have dyslexia

There are many frameworks that take accessibility into consideration, or are designed for it from the ground up; one of these is the Microsoft Inclusive Design toolkit. Use this to design bots that recognize exclusion, learn from diversity, and solve for ability constraints.

Accessibility testing

There’s a key metric for success when it comes to accessibility: that customers with disabilities should be able to use your bot as effectively as those without disabilities. This is the true mark of a successful accessibility implementation.

To make sure you hit this target, it’s important you include people with disabilities in your testing process. In addition to helping your bot to comply with accessibility standards, getting feedback on your bot from users with disabilities before launch will help determine whether the bot can be used as intended by the broadest possible audience.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created guidelines for web accessibility testing, which are available here: W3C Accessibility Testing.

W3C note that accessibility testing should be done early, and often, as it is more work to fix problems discovered late in a process than it is to get it right from the start.

Too often, accessibility is thought of as a “nice to have” or a feature to be added to a minimum viable product at some point in the future. This is wrong. Accessibility is more than just a requirement - it’s a right. If your bot doesn’t allow for accessibility from the start, you’re not only losing trust among a huge segment of potential users, you’re missing the “viable” part of your MVP.