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Digital Accessibility and the Common Good

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
        - Margaret Mead

 

Today marks the 8th annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

GAAD was inspired by a blog post written in November 2011 by Joe Devon, a Los Angeles based web developer who was frustrated about an overall lack of awareness about accessibility. He called for a day devoted to building a more inclusive digital world. 

About six months later, on May 9, 2012, the first Global Accessibility Awareness Day occurred with about a dozen virtual and in-person events. 

Today, there will be hundreds of GAAD 2019 events celebrated in every corner of the world. 

It’s wonderful that digital accessibility is inching it’s way into mainstream thinking, but too often, the time and resources associated with making sites and apps accessible is viewed as a burden -- a legal requirement that would gladly be avoided, if possible. The fact is, expanding digital accessibility represents a profound opportunity to take a more expansive, empathetic, and inclusive view of our world and that always leads to good.

Into the Light

Digital accessibility is emerging from a code-related "have-to" that happens behind the scenes. We need to talk about it more and see it as an opportunity. 

We are living in a digital world that shuts out or limits the ability to engage for an estimated 15 percent of the population -- customers, constituents, audiences. 

This translate into business. The disabled represent $490 billion in buying power. And millennials, who value inclusivity and social responsibility more than any generation that preceded them represent $3.28 trillion in buying power. 

Once we get it -- that ensuring digital accessibility is not only a legal requirement, it’s the smart thing to do and the right thing to do -- our passion for accessibility moves up several notches. And just as accessible ramps at entrances to public buildings serve far more than the wheelchair bound, it’s helpful to understand that accessibility is not just for the “disabled.”  Let’s consider some ways that accessibility modifications make digital experiences more engaging and flexible for people of all abilities.

  • Logical layouts and engaging designs are not just pleasant to look at. Any user can get annoyed when needed information is difficult to find and interactions are complicated, but users who have cognitive difficulties or limited computer skills can be frustrated beyond all measure. Be sure to evaluate the user experience from multiple perspectives and angles. 
  • Adequate color contrast is essential for enabling users with a wide range of visual impairments, such as color blindness, to read, navigate, or interact with a site. Low-contrast sensitivity becomes more common with age, but good contrast also ensures accessibility in low-lighting conditions and for users who could be experiencing any number of temporary visual challenges. 
  • Video captions are, of course, essential to enable the hearing impaired to understand the meaning of a video. They also enable videos to be accessible to viewers who are in particularly loud environments, or in settings where silence is required. 
  • Alternate text for photos makes a site more accessible for the visually impaired. It can also bring additional context and clarity to digital experiences.
  • Technology that converts text to speech is viewed as a requirement for the visually impaired. It’s also helpful for dyslexic users, people who prefer not to read, as well as people who want to multi-task. Coding websites and apps to convert text to speech has the added benefit of helping search engines to detect content.
  • Customizable text capabilities enable users to adjust the size spacing and color or text without loss of function or clarity. There are a wide range of visual impairments that make small text unreadable, and difficulties in reading small type inevitable accompany the aging process for everyone. 
  • Clear language is key to accessibility. Industry jargon and acronyms always need to be explained. Run-on sentences and paragraphs can frustrate users of all abilities and in particular those who have cognitive impairments or learning disabilities. In the current environment, there is no patience or inclination for unraveling complicated text. 

This is a lay person’s look at digital accessibility -- an issue in our modern world that’s inherently tied to the common good. 

Do you agree? Join the conversation and let us know how you have discovered digital accessibility to be a means to broaden outreach and build bridges.