If you don’t have a disability, you may not have spent much time thinking about digital accessibility. After all, how often do you pay attention to the accessibility of your physical environment – the community and the infrastructure that surround you?
When you aren’t living with a disability and don’t have close family members or friends with disabilities, some of the more subtle barriers around you can slip past, unnoticed, even though they’re significant obstacles for certain groups of people.
For example, unless you use a wheelchair, you might not experience just how difficult it is to cross a roadway safely without a curb cut.
If you don’t bring a service dog around with you to public places, you may never have to worry about a taxi driver refusing to give you a ride because he or she doesn’t want a dog in the vehicle.
If you aren’t blind, you may not notice that the non-tactile buttons in an elevator are only useful for people who can see them.
Digital Accessibility Standards
Digital inaccessibility is another type of barrier that you might not even notice is there – unless you have a disability.
Certain computer documents, e-readers and other electronics, streamed videos and business websites may seem perfectly functional and acceptable to you. But when that document is in a PDF format, when that e-reader has no text-to-speech function, when that video file doesn’t include captions, or when that web page is crowded with tiny buttons and links, they are not universally usable.
These are all examples in which digital accessibility can, and should, be improved. For people with disabilities, these improvements can open the world.
Who Can Benefit from an Accessible Digital Environment?
By now you may be getting a clearer picture of what kinds of barriers might exist, and why we should all be striving for proper digital accessibility.
Let’s talk about the who.
One in five American adults live with some kind of disability. In Canada, the number is one in seven. People with disabilities may be in a minority group, but clearly, it’s a much larger minority than many of us realize.
These disabilities may affect vision or hearing, mobility or dexterity, or other abilities. For this vast group of people, online and offline accessibility is critical in order to be able to participate equally and fairly in society.
In many cases, people with disabilities have specialized devices, called assistive technology (AT), to use computers and smartphones or to navigate websites.
For example, someone who is blind might have his or her own screen reader software that converts the text on the computer screen into audio. Or someone who doesn’t have the hand dexterity to use a computer mouse might use a special pointer that’s directed by his or her head movements instead.
But not everyone comes with their own AT devices to interact with the digital world. These devices can be expensive or hard to find. They might be impractical in every setting – for instance, perhaps they’re not portable, and can only be used at home. Certain AT devices might not even be appropriate for all individuals.
And unfortunately, even when people with disabilities do have AT, a lack of conformance with digital accessibility guidelines can limit the usefulness of this technology. A screen reader isn’t going to do any good at all if a PDF document hasn’t been specially tagged for it. A head-controlled mouse may be frustratingly ineffective if the clickable areas on a web page are too tiny or crowded closely together.
How is Your Organization Doing with Digital and Web Accessibility?
Unfortunately, studies find that the majority of websites are still not adequately accessible. Imagine what this lack of digital access means on a day-to-day basis if you’re living with a disability.
- Maybe you can’t pay your utility bills online
- Maybe you can’t check your power usage like your neighbours can.
- Maybe it’s impossible to read the PDF user manual for the electronic gadget you just purchased.
- Maybe you can’t stream the new show that everyone’s talking about.
- Maybe you can’t book concert tickets for your favourite band, or reserve a train ride for your upcoming work conference.
In essence, part of the world is completely closed to you.
What, on the other hand, does a lack of digital accessibility mean for an organization?
Besides shutting out a significant consumer market, the organization could be breaking the law. Legislation such as the Rehabilitation Act (often called the “Rehab Act”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Canada and human rights laws all confirm that people with disabilities have a right to digital and web accessibility when they’re interacting with government, businesses and other organizations.
Take steps to ensure full access to your website and all your digital products and services. Digital accessibility is one way you can show inclusivity to your customers. And for people with disabilities, digital accessibility really can open the world.
A Full Stack Accessibility Solution
If your organization is looking to implement digital accessibility here’s what you should look for in a vendor:
- Do they provide automated, manual, and functional testing by people with disabilities?
- Are they equipped to audit all of your digital properties?
- Do they also offer assistive technology for your customers with physical disabilities?
For more information on how a eSSENTIAL Accessibility’s full stack solution can help your organization enhance the digital customer experience for people with disabilities, learn about our solution here.