How To Make Digital Accessibility A Priority
The original Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. The ADA requires that those with disabilities have equal access to all aspects of public life. It was a leap forward in ensuring that people were no longer treated as second-class citizens.
Much has changed in thirty years. Today, our digital infrastructure rivals our physical infrastructure. Your bank, your favorite stores, your healthcare practitioners, your preferred media outlets — virtually every industry has been transformed to make it easy for you to interact with them digitally through an app or website.
But digital transformation has not made life easier for everyone.
The Digital Dungeon
For nearly 25% of the U.S. population, the move toward digitization has been a significant setback. Many of the physical barriers to public infrastructure that had been removed through ADA mandates have been replaced with new digitized barriers, wiping out decades of progress. The move toward digitization has relegated many people with cognitive or physical impairments to a digital dungeon of sorts, cut off from the daily digital interactions that are so routine for many.
In the physical world, many features have long been available to aid those with impairments: Braille touchpads, designated parking, wheelchair ramps, etc. In the digital world, however, far less assistance is available to help the impaired navigate through their daily lives. Simply interacting with websites and accessing online information can be difficult to impossible. Certain common elements of website design — radio buttons, sliders, navigation bars, website forms — can be barriers to a valuable digital experience.
Not Just A Legal Mandate
Though it’s true that laws mandate digital accessibility to a degree — mandates that will likely intensify — there are certainly other reasons to focus upon this issue. The morality of the issue is obvious. Providing accessibility for all is simply the right thing to do. And, in fact, providing digital accessibility is a benefit to everybody, not just those with impairments.
There is also a financial aspect to digital accessibility. The issue is like a pot on a stovetop that has long been simmering. In 2018, accessibility-related lawsuit filings hit record numbers — a 177% jump from the previous year, driven largely by website accessibility issues. And in 2019, there was one ADA lawsuit filed against inaccessible websites every hour, according to UsableNet.
This year it is likely the heat under that pot will be turned up enough to bring the issue to a full boil. Organizations that haven’t allocated sufficient resources to make accessibility a priority will be scrambling to catch up — something that won’t be an easy task. Suddenly reworking accessibility into an organization’s digital infrastructure will be quite disruptive and difficult, not to mention expensive.
Digital accessibility is not just about providing equal access to disabled users. Consider features such as language translation, for example, or tools that can help children learn to read. These all utilize the assistive technologies that enable digital accessibility. Business leadership has the responsibility and the opportunity to increase their organization’s focus on digital accessibility. Even a simple change such as improving a website’s layout can demonstrate an organization’s commitment to accessibility — and can also provide a leg up over competitors.
Guidelines For Accessibility
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides guidelines for digital accessibility. These guidelines are shaped by a POUR framework. Websites should be:
Ensuring that each image on a webpage is accompanied by a description that may be read by a screen reader is an example of a POUR principle. The selection of background colors and text fonts that are easily readable to those with visual impairments is another. Organizations that comply with the simple POUR principles will make a huge difference in the level of accessibility they are providing for customers with impairments.
But for organizations wise enough to truly commit to providing digital accessibility, going a step beyond the W3C guidelines can pay massive dividends.
Human-Centric Design And Testing
Many of the design features that ultimately cause accessibility issues are simple oversights. Designers simply did not consider how those with disabilities would access their products. It is a problem that can be largely eliminated by involving human testing throughout the entire design and development process, from product conception through product delivery.
Human testers with designated impairments can provide real-world proofing of digital accessibility design concepts. The feedback can offer insights to designers that, otherwise, would likely never come to light throughout the life span of the product. And the goodwill that inclusive design can cultivate might ultimately spell the difference between customers who demonstrate long-term loyalty and those who abandon the product for another.
Utilizing human testers with a range of disabilities from the very beginning, and integrating that feedback into the design and development process, can reduce development time and costs. But, most importantly, feedback from those with impairments helps to ensure the creation of a product that will efficiently and effectively serve as many customers as possible.
A Win For All
Organizations that work to ensure they are providing a truly accessible experience for all will reap a variety of rewards. They could save money in product development, generate goodwill and loyalty among their customer base, and increase their addressable customer base with a huge but vastly underserved segment of society that represents considerable spending power.
Products that prioritize digital accessibility will ultimately benefit both customers and the organizations that provide the products — a true win for everyone. That is why any business looking to boost both near- and long-term profitability should be working to make digital accessibility a priority right now.