Why digital accessibility is important today
In today’s world, embracing inclusivity with accessibility is not only about being humane or legally correct but also makes a lot of business sense. Recent studies have shown that businesses can tap into an additional prospective user base of up to 15% to market their products. Persons with disabilities (PWD) are responsible for 25% of all healthcare spending in the U.S.
Businesses have increasingly become aware of the requirements of people who need accessible technologies to contribute to a work environment or who can also be prospective customers.
“At Barclays, accessibility is about more than just disability. It’s about helping everyone to work, bank and live their lives regardless of their age, situation, abilities, or circumstances. – Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility, Barclays
What is digital accessibility?
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) states that websites, tools, and technologies should be designed and developed so that even differently-abled people can use them. More specifically, these people should be able to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web and contribute to the Web.
Web Accessibility enables people with disabilities to participate equally on the Web. Broadly speaking, Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including:
When an organization removes barriers by making its application accessible to its full potential, it will be an inclusive product, as millions of people with various disabilities can use it.
Mandated by Law – American with Disabilities Act (ADA)
One hears the terms “Section 508”, an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires that all Information Technology assets of the United States’ federal government be accessible by people with disabilities.
Also, ADA (American with Disabilities Act) the Title III requires that all private businesses that are open to the public be accessible to people with disabilities. There is a steady rise in the number of lawsuits filed over the years under this section, resulting from the growing awareness of the ADA Title III. Digital accessibility compliance helps organizations protect themselves against this rising trend of ADA Title III Federal lawsuits.
Foundation for accessibility
The web accessibility guidelines, technical specifications, and educational resources to help make the web accessible to people with disabilities are developed by Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). They are an integral part of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), focusing on accessibility. Over time, the WAI has developed several recommendations, some of which are:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
- Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines
- User Agent Accessibility Guidelines
- Accessible Rich Internet Applications
The latest edition of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 has additional coverage for mobile and non-W3C technologies (non-web documents and software).
Four principles of accessibility
The WCAG guidelines lay down the four principles which are the foundation for Web accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR for short).
Perceivable: The objective is to make content available to the senses, primarily vision, and hearing, via either the browser or through assistive technologies like screen readers, screen enlargers, etc. For the visually impaired who mainly rely on a screen reader to have the website’s content read, one needs to add an alternative text that provides a textual alternative to non-text content in web pages that makes the content perceivable. Another example is videos and live audio must have captions and a transcript. With archived audio, a transcription may be enough.
In this video example: Perceivable, the video page uses “voice recognition” and is also updated to use “speech recognition.” “Voice recognition” or “speaker recognition” is a technology that identifies who the speaker is, not the words they’re saying. “Speech recognition” is about recognizing words for speech-to-text (STT) transcription, virtual assistants, and other speech user interfaces. Together they allow a person with visual impairment to enhance their experience of the web.
Operable: The objective is to enable a user to interact with all controls and interactive elements using either the mouse, keyboard, or an assistive device. Most people will get frustrated by the inability to use a computer because of a malfunctioning mouse. Many people prefer to use only the keyboard to navigate websites. Whatever be the reason, either personal preference or circumstance like temporarily limited mobility, a permanent physical disability, or simply a broken mouse, the result is the same: Websites and apps need to be operable by a keyboard. For example, all links and controls on the web page must be accessible using the Tab key on the keyboard.
In addition, Operable principles allow users enough time to use and interact with the content. It also helps them navigate and find content. For example, if all rich, interactive features of the web page like dropdown menus, carousels, modal dialogs, etc., comply with the W3C’s WAI-ARIA 1.0 Authoring Practices recommendations, will ensure that users can easily navigate to the right content.
Understandable: The objective is to ensure that every functionality of web content is easily understandable. A user must be able to understand all navigation and other forms of interaction. To provide a user the best possible experience, every point of interaction deserves careful attention. Navigation should be consistent and predictable throughout the context of the website. Interactive elements like form controls should also be predictable and clearly labeled. For example, Instead of saying: “To postulate a conceit more irksome than being addressed in sesquipedalian syntax is adamantine,” it is better to say: “Being spoken to in unnecessarily long and complicated language is a pain.”
Despite knowing these basics, many websites lack structuring using headings, lists, and separations. Some even use overly complex language, jargon, and unexplained acronyms. It makes these websites difficult and unappealing for many people, including non-native speakers and makes them unusable for people with cognitive and learning disabilities.
Robust: People get familiar and comfortable with different technologies like operating systems, browsers, and versions of browsers with usage and time. Some people like advanced features, whereas many disable them. There are early adopters of new technologies while others are slow to adapt to the rapidly-changing currents in the flow of technological advances.
A User should have the freedom to choose their technologies to access web content. This allows the user to customize the technology to meet his needs, including accessibility needs. In some cases, it might take additional time and effort to develop web content, depending on the specifications of the technologies used. However, in the long run, it will produce more reliable results and increase the chances that the content is accessible to people with disabilities.
You might have experienced the frustration of being told your technology is out of date or no longer supported. Whilst frustrating, you’ve probably found a way around the issue – but what if you couldn’t because you rely on that technology to interact with the digital world.
Beyond the four principles
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 are organized into three levels of conformance:
Level A – addresses the most basic features of web accessibility features.
Level AA – deals with the most common and biggest barriers for disabled users and is covered in most accessibility regulations globally, including the ADA.
Level AAA – the highest level of web accessibility will make the software or product accessible to the maximum number of users. However, these requirements are not entirely easy to conform to and can be focused on if your audience is primarily people with disabilities.
These levels are across all of the previously mentioned principles. Some of the key requirements include:
Google Aces Accessibility
Google’s investment in accessibility provides the company with an innovation edge in a broad array of products and services. Some of the innovations are:
- Contrast minimums: a feature designed especially for people with low vision, and the feature also helps everyone see in bright light glare situations.
- Auto-complete: initially designed for people with disabilities, now used widely by all users.
- Voice control: although initially implemented for users with physical impairments is now widely adopted by millions of users for the convenience it provides
- Artificial intelligence: originally integrated to provide visual context to users with visual impairments
- Auto-captioning leveraging machine learning designed mainly for deaf users did not see many adopters in that target audience, as many feel it is still inadequate to meet their needs. However, advances in machine learning itself have found broader applications.
Get started with your accessibility program
Trigent’s Accessibility Assurance and Compliance Service can help you at the design stage itself with Design reviews and Gap analysis or later to assess compliance to WCAG 2.1 guidelines.