Empathy and Web Sites

An organisation is made of people. People make choices. They can choose to be empathic to those outside the organisation. For example, are those responsible for an organisation’s web site empathic to disabled persons? A web site is an organisation’s calling card, and it is often the first exposure a person, disabled or not, has to the organisation; hopefully, it is not the last.

Thankfully, one does not have to re-invent the wheel. While empathy cannot be manufactured, standards can. To continue with our example, there are standards for a web site’s accessibility and knowledgeable people who can help others achieve those standards.

You are best to find out for yourself whether your jurisdiction requires such standards, . Nevertheless, empathy carries a moral force which is beyond law. Whether standards need to be met can be legislated, but not empathy. Thus, it is better to ‘just do it.’ Your organisation’s audience–unknown–will be wider. Your accessibility higher. Your uncertainty lower.

It is a well known fact that people do not like to think. They would rather click a big red shiny button. I know. I don’t mind filling out online petitions, but keep it simple, and give me a big red shiny button to submit my protest. There is an amusing, brief, but pointed book called Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug about a web site’s usability. Standards and empathy may not be enough. You may have to go more than half way. You may have to do the thinking on behalf of the users. Be prepared, especially in the planning and user-testing stages, for revisions, possibly many revisions.

While user-testing may seem onerous and futile–after all, no one but you pays for the possibly infinite unknown–remember your web site is often your calling card, and the possibly infinite unknown could be your next conversion or sale. After all, we are really all connected, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. This is not some trickle-down theory, but pay it forward. Empathy to the max. Put it out there, and like a boomerang it will come back.

So always do your best. Especially when dealing with the unknown. Give a hundred and ten per cent. Because you never know who is making a list and checking it twice. It could be the Feds.

By improving your organisation’s accessibility for disabled persons, you really are improving services for all persons in society. Just as you automatically wear seat belts and lock car doors (Remember when cars didn’t even come with seat belts?–I do) and smoking in public spaces is now banned (in my jurisdiction, at least), people not only welcome improvements, they expect it. Rather than being hidden, visibility of disability issues and solutions is seen by all. They become part of the norm, and people no longer have to think. People no longer have to choose. The disability may even disappear. And that is good for all.

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