Accessibility in the Digital Space
November 14, 2019
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, great strides have been made to ensure public spaces are inclusive for those who are differently abled. However, much of this advancement is limited almost exclusively to physical spaces.
In an age when the internet has seemingly made the world available to anyone with a smartphone, it’s surprisingly limiting for those with disabilities. More than 20 million Americans currently utilize accessibility software when on the internet. And that number is only expected to grow as a generation of internet users ages.
And it’s not just an issue of fairness. Digital accessibility has already become a legal issue for some businesses. The Supreme Court recently rejected an appeal by Domino’s to prevent a hearing on a case brought by a blind man who was unable to order a pizza from their website, claiming it violates the ADA. The case, now set to go to trial, will have far-reaching implications for all businesses. The central question being: does the ADA apply only to a business’s physical spaces, or its websites and mobile apps as well?
Thankfully, that’s a question that will be answered by those far above my pay grade. But, as we’ve already seen here at Grisko, the push for greater accessibility on the internet is happening now. As the agency of record for Ventra, we were recently tasked with creating a suite of how-to videos that are ADA compliant, ensuring Ventra’s millions of diverse customers, whose level of ability varies greatly, all have access to the same level of information.
Realizing this is an issue that’s here to stay, last week I attended a panel discussion on accessibility in the digital space which featured Joe Barsness from our partner software development firm, fjorge. The panel offered practical advice on what we can start doing today to ensure we’re making the digital space more inclusive. And, in fact, there are already standards in place.
The World Wide Web Consortium, the leading international standards organization for the internet, has published its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 with the goal of providing a shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations and governments internationally. A quick glance through the list reveals that most websites aren’t meeting even some basic accessibility standards.
So what does this mean for those developing websites and web content? The panel had a few thoughts.
If you’re developing a new website, make sure accessibility is at the forefront throughout the development process. While it will require a bit more time and effort, and an additional investment that’s not insignificant, it’s considerably cheaper than attempting to retrofit an existing website that doesn’t meet these guidelines.
But, if you are updating a website that wasn’t built to meet these guidelines, it’s not an impossible task. And nor is it one that has to be tackled all at once. The panel even suggested taking it page by page to steadily increase the accessibility of your online presence. Joe at fjorge recommends starting with your “Careers” or “Contact Us” pages to ensure job openings and other opportunities to engage with your business are available to people of all abilities.
To be sure, the benefits of a more accessible website aren’t singular. Websites with more accessible functionalities already receive an algorithmic advantage with web searches, improves SEO, and, depending on your business, you’re opening yourself up to a new demographic with a massive buying power.
The advantages of creating a more accessible digital world are wide-reaching, and the decisions and steps taken today will have implications for years to come.
November 14, 2019