The third Thursday of May, Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) serves as a yearly reminder to prioritize all users when creating digital experiences such as websites and mobile apps. With people around the world depending more on the web than in decades past, the changing landscape of the internet is demanding businesses keep up with its rapid pace.
While much of the attention on digital accessibility is paid to lawsuits and the costs of non-compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it's important for businesses to remember that much like physical accessibility measures, digital accessibility aims to offer a functional experience for everyone, irrespective of their abilities.
Many websites fall painfully short of meeting digital accessibility guidelines, compromising the experience for end users, particularly those grappling with a disability. With recent years prompting a surge in the world's dependence on digital assets, businesses are beginning to realize that accessibility must take a front seat.
Not only is digital accessibility the right thing to do and the responsibility of every corporation, it also makes business sense as it is an ethically vital revenue generator.
Digital Accessibility in Numbers
Digital accessibility cannot be understated given that approximately 15% of the world's population, which equates to around 1.3 billion individuals, have some type of disability or impairment.
- As of 2021, a staggering 98% of the world's top one million websites remain inaccessible.
- The Web AIM Million Report analyzed one million websites and found that, on average, there were 50.8 detectable accessibility errors per home page.
Image Source: DDIY|Don’t Do It Yourself
To understand how many people are affected by the lack of digital accessibility consider the following findings:
- Nearly 5% of adults in the U.S. suffer from vision disabilities, including blindness or severe difficulty seeing
even when wearing glasses, and as a result need to rely on screen readers.
- 16% of screen reader users have multiple disabilities.
- Approximately 6% of U.S. adults experience hearing impairments or significant difficulty hearing.
- 10.8% of people with disabilities are affected by cognitive disabilities, which include serious difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Around 300 million individuals worldwide suffer from color vision deficiency. For this population, using color-adjusting tools on websites makes a huge difference.
Dissecting the Statistics
Individuals with visual impairments require screen readers, while those who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing depend on captioning for content for content like videos or other website audio. Similarly, people with motor impairments need alternative navigation options, and individuals with cognitive disabilities can benefit from simplified site designs.
The issue of digital accessibility is a global civil rights concern that requires a global response. Unfortunately, many website owners remain largely unaware of accessibility guidelines, while others are hesitant to invest in the necessary costs and logistics involved in re-coding their websites to make them accessible.
Video Source: YouTube
Digital Accessibility: A Game Changer for Business
Businesses today are held fully accountable for incorporating digital accessibility into their practices. Fortunately, integrating accessibility is easy and comes with profitable rewards.
Digital accessibility is not just an obligation — it’s the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that places of public accommodation, including websites, be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Additionally, federal agencies are mandated by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that their electronic and information technology (EIT) is accessible to both disabled employees and members of the public. Organizations who fail to adhere to legal guidelines are susceptible to costly lawsuits and may get into trouble for not following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Those who follow digital accessibility standards though, can minimize their legal risk.
Avoiding legal trouble isn’t the only reason to get on board with digital accessibility. Positioning your business as a leader in accessibility and inclusive design, can differentiate your brand from your competitors. Ensuring digital accessibility won’t only set you apart from other companies, but will lead your business down a path of more innovation and creativity.
Broader Audience Reach
The disabled community is large and as the global population ages, the number of people with disabilities is only increasing. When your business's website and applications are digitally accessible, you can leverage current digital spending and e-commerce trends, broaden your market reach, and remain competitive. Making your products, services, and information accessible to everyone allows you to tap into a new segment of the market and expand your audience. In the United States alone, people with disabilities have an annual discretionary spending of over $200 billion. Incorporating individuals with disabilities into your digital spaces demonstrates that your business values and respects all of its users and promotes inclusion and equitable access.
Another reason why serving this market segment is also good for business? The market size for consumers with disabilities in the US exceeds one billion dollars, and when taking into account their family, friends, and associates, the potential spending power of this audience increases to over a trillion dollars. Some estimates suggest this figure could be as high as $7 trillion.
Builds Branding & Strengthens Image
Demonstrating a clear commitment to digital accessibility shows consumers that you value Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). By addressing diverse needs and implementing sustainable, inclusive marketing and employment practices, businesses can enhance their reputation which has a domino effect on other parts of their company such as increasing sales and customer loyalty, improving workforce diversity, improving your bottom line, and more.
Inclusion of people with disabilities is an integral part of creating a diverse workforce. For this approach to succeed however, technology that employees and prospective employees use, such as websites and applications, must be accessible.
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Benefits for Minorities & Beyond
Building accessibility into websites impacts more people than might be realized. Beyond accommodating the disabled, a digitally accessible world benefits those who may have hidden disabilities, those who acquire disabilities later in life, seniors who may not be digitally capable, and even those who don’t identify with a disability, but experience a temporary or situational impairment.
According to the State of the Disabled Consumer Report by Nielsen, loyalty is a crucial trait among consumers in households with at least one member who identifies with a disability. This indicates that brand loyalty not only applies to individuals with disabilities, but also to their family members. The research covered six disabilities and found that over a quarter of households in the US have a family member who identifies with at least one of them.
The report further reveals that even though consumers with disabilities have lower incomes, they shop more frequently and spend more during each trip. Additionally, they are less likely to be influenced by coupons or deals offered by competing brands. Applying this to digital technologies, if your products and services meet the needs of consumers with disabilities (i.e. are accessible), you stand a better chance of retaining these customers.
Image Source: Accenture
A Forrester study commissioned by Microsoft revealed that the incorporation of digital accessibility into established or ongoing development cycles can result in cost savings. Improvements to user interface components of digital platforms that include accessibility updates have also led to lower maintenance costs. Additionally, incorporating accessibility features has been proven to increase customer satisfaction levels.
Following accessibility standards doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice aesthetics. In fact, most digital accessibility affects elements in the code. And for accessible elements that are visible, design parameters don’t have to be so black and white. Fonts, for example, don’t have to be limited and interactive elements need not be dull. A designer can create engaging interfaces and color schemes for accessible UX or User Experience.
SEO & Conversions
A website that is designed with accessibility in mind has a higher chance of being discovered by search engines, resulting in increased organic traffic and conversions. When a platform delivers quality content in an accessible format, it’s factored into the search algorithm. Websites that adhere to certain accessibility standards are more likely to receive better page rankings and SEO results.
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Digitally Accessible Solutions
Not everyone uses a mouse to navigate web content. Ensure that your website is fully accessible using only a keyboard, including interactive elements and controls such as drop-down menus, form fields and radio buttons.
Unique Link Text
Avoid using generic link text like "Read More" or "Click Here" that doesn't describe the destination of the link. People who are blind benefit from unique and descriptive link text for all links on your website.
Large & Readable Text
Like most assistive tools, using large, readable fonts for website content can benefit all users. For instance, sans serif fonts such as Roboto, Open Sans, and Montserrat are easy to read for individuals of all abilities. Additionally, there are web fonts that are specifically designed for individuals with dyslexia.
Alt text enables screen readers to describe images to website visitors who have visual impairments. Well-crafted alt text can also increase website traffic through improved SEO.
To accommodate people living with color blindness, communicate beyond color by using patterns and visual cues like underlines or bold text.
For people with visual impairments who may have difficulty reading content, sufficient color contrast between text and background is vital.
Image Source: Powtoon
Ensure that your videos have captions and audio descriptions, so users with sensory impairments can access your media. Captions should synchronize with the visual content, be placed mindfully so as not to be too distracting or cover content, and audio descriptions should describe the visual content of your videos.
Digital accessibility should include making documents identical across all digital platforms and tools. While it is frequently overlooked, this is a critical aspect of digital accessibility. You can address these requirements through manual adjustments or by utilizing automated remediation tools.
Multiple Navigation Options
Make it easy for users to find content by including consistent navigation across every page of your site, a site map, and a global search function. This way, users will be able to navigate your site and find the information they need without getting frustrated.
Captions & Transcripts
Captioning software helps users who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing follow along with video and other audio-based media on a website. Businesses with audio-heavy websites should have captioning options and transcripts available so those with hearing impairments aren’t excluded.
Since the launch of GAAD 10 years ago, we have witnessed significant changes in how some companies approach digital accessibility. Here’s a few who are doing it right:
Level Access, a pioneering force in digital accessibility, creates digital systems that are readily accessible to people with disabilities. With their integrated digital accessibility platform, they are paving the way for equal access to technology and digital equality for all.
Level Access offers a comprehensive suite of accessibility services, including accessibility consulting, accessibility testing, remediation, training, and ongoing monitoring. Their team of experts works closely with clients to understand their unique accessibility needs and implement effective solutions. Level Access serves clients across various industries, including finance, healthcare, retail, education and government.
The company is committed to staying up-to-date with the latest accessibility guidelines and standards, ensuring that their clients stay compliant with evolving regulations. With over 20 years of experience in the accessibility industry, Level Access is a trusted partner for businesses looking to create a more inclusive digital experience.
Image Source: Level Access
Disability:IN, a leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide strives to make the global economy one that enables disabled people to participate fully. Disability:IN provides guidance and resources to help companies establish best practices for digital accessibility, ultimately making it easier for people with disabilities to access the same opportunities as everyone else. To further support their mission of promoting inclusion and accessibility for individuals with disabilities, they offer the following services:
- A comprehensive benchmarking tool helping companies build a roadmap of measurable, tangible actions towards disability inclusion and equality
- Unlimited, customized, virtual, and onsite consulting provided by a team of disability inclusion experts
- Sustainable recruitment strategies
- Guidance for neurodiversity-focused hiring initiatives
- One-on-one mentoring for college students and recent graduates with disabilities
- Certification for disability-owned business enterprises, including service-disabled and veteran disability-owned businesses, and link them to organizations seeking to diversify their supply chains.
Ava is a real-time captioning application for mobile and desktop with a focus on the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The company's mission is to create a world where everyone can participate fully in all conversations, regardless of hearing ability. Ava uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide accurate and timely captioning for in-person conversations, phone calls, and virtual meetings. AvaScribe combines AI technology with human scribes on-demand for near 100% accuracy.
Ava's captioning technology also supports multiple languages, making it accessible to individuals around the world. Ava is committed to staying at the forefront of accessibility technology, continuously improving assistive technological solutions to meet the evolving needs of users. With a passionate team of experts, including Deaf and CODA founders and engineers, the dedication to making communication accessible for all is incomparable. Ava is a trusted partner for individuals and organizations looking to improve accessibility.
Video Source: YouTube
Accenture Accessibility program aims to provide workplace accommodations, promote inclusive design, offer leading-edge technologies and encourage technology accessibility with partners and suppliers. The company's Accommodation Support Tool provides employees with assistive technology, web accessibility, and workplace accessibility. With Accessibility Centers across the globe, the company provides a physical space for people to interact with assistive technology and ergonomic equipment.
Accenture offers solutions for specific needs, such as hearing, vision, cognitive, and mobility solutions, as well as disability prevention technology. As a leader in accessibility, Accenture exceeds accessibility standards and strives for excellence through engagement with subject matter experts, embedding accessibility guidelines and developing a mindset of inclusivity.
5 Ways to Observe GAAD
1. Embrace Assistive Technology Tools
Assistive technology encompasses a wide range of AI and tangible tools that assist individuals with disabilities in accessing the web. These tools can include screen readers for individuals with visual impairments and video captioning for those with hearing impairments. To improve accessibility and reduce the risk of legal action related to compliance, it is recommended to collaborate with a third-party vendor who specializes in assistive technology.
2. Learn about Different Disabilities
When creating a website for individuals with disabilities, it is essential to comprehend their needs, requirements and difficulties. Each disability necessitates a specific set of assistive technology tools, and gaining a deeper understanding of each condition can assist in determining the website development approach.
3. Engage with Disabled Users
Simply adhering to the WCAG design guidelines doesn't guarantee that your websites will be 100% accessible and user-friendly in real-world scenarios. Conducting tests with real users who have disabilities is the best way to ensure that you provide the most inclusive digital experiences possible and establish trust with your clients.
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4. Increase Your Accessibility Expertise
It's important to remember that becoming knowledgeable in accessibility is an ongoing process. As technical requirements and capabilities constantly evolve, stay up-to-date with what’s possible, what works, and what doesn’t work so you can deliver the accessible experiences your clients want. By brushing up on your own expertise and by engaging the expertise of others — you’ll help build a more inclusive world and open new doors to opportunity.
5. Conduct an Accessibility Audit
To identify areas where accessibility can be improved, consider conducting an audit of your website. Various services and online tools can be used, or you can hire an accessibility consultant to conduct a more comprehensive review.
Make Digital Accessibility a Priority
The web has been available to the world for more than 25 years. And yet, it still leaves members of the disabled internet community out of the full equation. Digital access is no longer a novelty, but a critical tool of modern life. Considering the fiscal, marketing and social opportunities of digital accessibility, it seems obvious that every business should integrate total accessibility into their website and application.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a reminder of our collective responsibility to make the digital world more accessible, inclusive and empowering to all. It's an opportunity to raise awareness, share knowledge and collaborate with others who share our vision of a more accessible future.
By prioritizing accessibility in our personal and professional lives, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of people around us. Let's embrace the spirit of GAAD and work towards a world where everyone has equal access to the digital realm.