What Does Web Accessibility Mean In a Digital Age?

Modern technology has become an integral part of humans’ lives today and simultaneously plays a role in improving our lives. These improvements are peppered all across the globe to various groups in varying degrees. But, it has invariably made lives easier for people around the world.

According to Google, there are approximately 7.53 billion people worldwide, and currently, a large percentage, about 4.48 billion, have access to the Internet. That translates to 58% of the population that has internet access.

Out of the approximately 7.5 billion people, about 1 billion people have some disability. These disabilities make having access to and consuming specific kinds of content more difficult or impossible.  These folks are required to use assistive technologies in their everyday life.

People with disabilities can’t always access or consume web content if it does not meet the accessibility guidelines required to make them accessible. Thus about a billion people are missing out when it comes to technology and web-based content. Ideally, all users should have access to it.

On the flip side, when it comes to people with disabilities and access to frequently updated and readily available information, The Internet is one of the best things that has ever happened for people with disabilities. In the pre-internet days,  the blind could not read a printed newspaper.  They had to travel to a library for an audiotape or carry a bulky Braille version/  The only other choice for them to get updated information was that they could ask someone to read to them at home. People with disabilities were constantly dependent upon others, but that was all we could do under the circumstances.

Web Accessibility and its standardization across the Internet have dramatically shifted the balance in favor of people with disabilities.

What is Accessibility and How Does It Impact the Disable?

Accessibility is the ability to effectively access and use products and services, which means that devices, products, and services are accessible to people with disabilities. They can get practical use out of them. For some people, effective use occurs through assistive technologies, which make devices, products, and services accessible for them.

Users with disabilities cannot access any devices, products, and services if their disabilities are not taken into account during their design or implementation. A large portion of resources like time and money could be saved if accessibility is considered beforehand. They are making any design and implementation decisions based on accessibility guarantees that products, services, and devices are accessible.

Web accessibility

When it comes to web accessibility, the practice focuses on designing and developing websites that are more accessible to people with disabilities. It also means that websites that have employed the content accessibility principles can provide more accessible content for those with disabilities to consume.

When it comes to website design, many have made the mistake of interchanging accessibility with usability. It is true that the concept of Accessibility indeed has overlapping principles with usability. You may feel like both accessibility and usability are accomplishing the same goal, but taken separately, there are differences between these two aspects of technology. What is the difference between them?

In general, accessibility focuses on creating more accessible web content, specifically when it comes to people with disabilities. At the same time, usability focuses on the broad user experience that covers all users, including users with disabilities.

Why Does Web Accessibility Matters?

If we were to look at the Internet some 20 years ago, it was a place for tech geeks, but now, it’s the primary source of information, entertainment, and communication. It’s utilized for everything from shopping to sharing memorable moments with friends, perusing the news, watching TV shows, applying for employment, booking vacations, and much much more. Yet, when it comes to people with disabilities, there are still barriers in place that make many of these things inaccessible to them, as many websites fail to consider their needs. Despite it being proven, much of the Internet is not yet treated as a public space and a community asset. We as a society have failed to ensure access to everyone regardless of ability.  The question, “does my website have to be ADA compliant” should be relegated to the past.

The great potential of the Internet for people with disabilities remains largely unrealized. For example, there are a large number of sites that can only be navigated through using a mouse and a large portion of multimedia that is not captioned. What if a user can’t use a mouse?What if a person can’t hear the audio?

How Can Web Accessibility Be Made Universal?

Before we commit to making Web Accessibility global, we must understand accessibility better, be committed to ensuring it, learn how to implement accessibility, and understand our legal obligations.

Here are a few things we need to implement first:

Awareness. The foundation of any communal effort to accessibility is awareness and education of the barriers disabled people face on the Internet. Most developers accept the broad concept of inclusive design; many are unaware and can not perceive the barriers users with disabilities encounters.

Leadership. Our society globally lacks the leadership it takes to implement things effectively. If a company’s leadership demonstrates a universal commitment to web accessibility, the chances are high that all the company’s content will be accessible. In turn, web developers will make a concerted effort to make content accessible if they feel that the action is expected, recognized, and rewarded.

Policies and Procedures. There is no greater force to level the playing field than adequate policy and procedures. If the idea of accessibility is backed by policies and procedures consistently, it becomes part of the culture and customs and is universally expected. The best approach for a large organization is to implement an internal accessibility policy.

Reasons to Care About Web Accessibility

There are a number of logical reasons why complying with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) (pronounced wu-cag)

  1. Legal compliance

If you operate in the United States, website accessibility requirements are law and a part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, of 1990. So, you are risking a website accessibility lawsuitfor failure to comply with the statutes.

It is given that the law was implemented before the Internet’s emergence as an everyday tool.  Back then, accessibility was mostly concerned with access to brick and mortar stores and the courts have been divided about whether or not websites and applications should be covered.

In 2017 alone, over 800 lawsuits were filed in the federal court in the US alone, so the threat of litigation is real.  Among the internet’s big four, Facebook has been praised for its Empathy Lab project and its internal policies regarding accessibility, but other companies have yet to catch up. Netflix, the online screening and video content giant,  has been sued several times by different associations for the blind and deaf. It was a major win for the disabled population since Netflix ended up having to provide equal access to its content to all users, including the addition of subtitles to all of its programs.

  1. Improved reputation

Companies that embrace and accommodate people with disabilities only benefit from it in the long run. All efforts to make a company website or app fully accessible rs positively impact a company’s reputation and create a positive image of social responsibility and care for all users.

What is even more encouraging is that in the process of adding accessibility features, tech giants have not hesitated to bring emerging tech and innovation to the game, investing millions of dollars in accessibility tech and ground-breaking new features.

For example, Facebook is now using AI to provide its blind users automatically generated alternative text using object recognition technology. This innovative feature now allows them to fully enjoy the massive trove of the 2 billion pictures shared each day on Facebook. The idea for this feature mostly came from Matt King, a blind software engineer who works with the accessibility team at Facebook. Facebook is a leader in big tech that has shown commitment to being a friendly company for people with disabilities, both online and in the physical world.

  1. Acquisition of new customers

What happens if more than 80% of your customers with impairments have decided not to trust you as a service provider because of barriers and poor web accessibility on your website. Because most brands often ignore users with disabilities, your users with disabilities are willing to spend more of their money at a competitor’s website that provides them with a well-thought-out user experience. The purchasing power of the market section of people with disabilities, in particular, is enormous primarily because it not only includes the customers with disabilities but their friends and families who empathize with their plight.

Accessibility improvements pay handsomely in the long run because they will not only turn away your current customers but will attract new customers and will have a direct impact on improving your conversions. By acknowledging and accommodating users with impairments, you’re actively exhibiting that their rights matter and that their business is valued at your site.

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