Digital accessibility means that electronic documents and information can be easily used by people with disabilities. If you have a policy to be digitally accessible, it means that your company is committed to ensuring its website, mobile apps, PDF documents, electronic statements and invoices and job application forms are all free of barriers that might prevent people with vision, hearing, mobility and other disabilities from using them.
Although assistive technology (AT) for accessing electronic documents and websites is available and in widespread use by people with disabilities, AT doesn’t have the power to overcome every obstacle. Think of it like a mobility device. A wheelchair may make the difference between whether or not a person with a physical disability can use a ramp at a front entrance, but if there’s no ramp at all – if there are only stairs – then the wheelchair won’t be enough to help the person enter the building.
In the same way, websites need to have accessibility features incorporated right into them. In a survey of web accessibility practitioners conducted in 2014 by the non-profit WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), four out of five respondents felt that improvements to accessibility of websites themselves would have a much bigger impact on people’s online access than improvements to assistive technology1.
Digital accessibility is readily achievable with the right expertise. If you have not yet developed a digital accessibility policy, we can think of six reasons why your organization should have one in place.
1. Customers and employees with disabilities will be able to use your digital properties.
This reason belongs at the top of the list, naturally. Ensuring smooth access to your website, apps and documents means that the one in five Americans who have disabilities will be able to do business with you online. They can visit, browse and place orders on your website, read about your products, or self-serve (saving you costs!) when it’s time to pay bills or upgrade service.
Digital accessibility also means that a diverse range of job candidates can easily apply for positions with your organization, and that current employees with disabilities can work to their full potential. If your company has been making efforts to broaden the diversity of its talent, then a digital accessibility policy will unquestionably support those efforts.
2. A digital accessibility policy lets everyone in your organization know what is expected of them.
By putting a policy in writing, you will demonstrate to every member of your organization that digital accessibility is a priority, just as much as providing exceptional customer service or safeguarding personal information. With an established policy, there’s no guessing about how important accessibility might be when a new web portal or document is being created, or an app is being redesigned. The responsibility to be inclusive has already been made clear. In the survey mentioned above, web accessibility practitioners ranked “management support” as the number-one most important factor in an organization’s successful web accessibility strategy – more important, even, than staff proficiency in accessibility!
3. It helps your workforce understand how to succeed.
A comprehensive digital accessibility policy will include steps for achieving success. It will answer these questions: What are the technical requirements for digital accessibility? Who will ensure that web accessibility testing is conducted to meet these requirements? Is accessibility training and/or guidance available? Who will monitor implementation of this policy? When this information is part of your policy, it becomes a valuable reference tool and helps ensure company-wide compliance.
4. It lets customers and/or employees with disabilities know that your digital environment is barrier-free.
A written, published policy – as opposed to an aspiration to be inclusive without any concrete steps to achieve it – communicates to the public that you’re serious about accessibility. It also demonstrates that this is a company that listens to its customers and is responsive to their needs. According to Rich Donovan, CEO of Return on Disability Group, companies making concrete efforts to engage people with disabilities are, on average, outperforming their competitors2
5. Your team will reap the benefits.
A website, internal software or electronic document that is designed to be accessible is more usable by everyone in your organization, whether or not they happen to have a permanent disability. Think about employees who have temporary injuries from basketball practice, who have their hands full (literally – maybe they’re holding a report open while typing with one hand), who didn’t sleep well the night before, who are easily distracted (or share an office with someone who is easily distracted)… all these diverse types of employees will be more productive if the digital properties they are working with are accessible.
6. Your digital properties will have staying power.
If your digital accessibility policy makes reference to the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 – and it should, according to the International Telecommunication Union’s Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, because WCAG 2.0 is the most up-to-date set of criteria3 – then your digital properties are likely to stay accessible for a while. Websites that follow WCAG 2.0 are device-independent, meaning they will still be accessible even as new kinds of mobile devices or gadgets come on the market. In other words, your site won’t have to be redesigned from the ground up every time the world starts using the next big thing.
According to the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, a digital accessibility policy should be developed in consultation with people who have disability and accessibility expertise. It should also be reviewed periodically and updated as needed. Contact a professional consulting firm that can work with you to develop a policy that will guide – and inspire – your entire organization.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.