The digital transformation continues to move our daily lives to the internet, forcing businesses of all sizes to embrace new technologies that better meet the needs of their customers and help them stay competitive in the digital age.
But as digital transformation sweeps across all sectors – from retail and transportation to manufacturing, and beyond – it exposes digital accessibility gaps and the vulnerabilities that these gaps create for businesses and businesses. customers.
According to Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention, one in four Americans lives with some type of disability.
Yet only 3% of the Internet is accessible people with disabilities. So when we talk about gaps in digital accessibility, we are talking first and foremost about the millions of lives and livelihoods that are being left behind, while the rest of society continues to reap the benefits of digital transformation.
Despite legal guidelines governing digital accessibility, the moral imperative, and good business acumen, many companies still don’t feel the urgency – or know how – to make their digital content accessible to everyone.
The good news is that today we have the technology and human expertise to bridge the digital accessibility gap without placing an operational or financial burden on businesses. Below are six steps every business should take to ensure equal access to their digital content and tools, and by extension, their products and services.
But before we dive into the action steps, let’s go over some basic definitions first.
What is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility is the practice of designing and creating websites, applications, media, and web-related tools and technologies that are usable by people with disabilities or conditions that may impact their access. to the Web.
There are a number of visible and invisible disabilities that can affect a person’s ability to access digital content. General categories of impairment include visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive / neurological impairments.
To be accessible to the broadest public, digital content must meet the four main principles defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – it must be perceptible, actionable, understandable and robust.
In summary, users should be able to see and hear content, use different features, navigate website structure and content with ease and clarity, and be able to use different assisted technologies.
Why is digital accessibility important?
Over a billion people need assistive technology to perform their daily tasks. In the digital context, assistive technology refers to any device, software or equipment that is easy to use and helps people with disabilities to consume and interact with web content. Voice-activated software, keyboard alternatives, and screen readers (JAWS, NVDA) are all examples of assistive technology.
But assistive technology alone cannot make your website content accessible. You need to incorporate digital accessibility best practices into your website design and development, so people who use assistive technology can interact with your content, shop online, and become repeat customers.
When you think of the ROI of digital accessibility, consider that in the United States alone, people with disabilities control $ 645 billion in disposable income.
Another important consideration is search engine optimization (SEO). From a business perspective, the goal of SEO is to attract target audiences to your website and convert site visitors into paying customers. For Google, the world’s largest search engine, the goal is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” By implementing digital accessibility best practices, such as clear navigation, proper titles, ALT text, video captions, and more, you can improve your site’s ranking in searches and increase organic traffic. .
Just keep in mind that while digital accessibility helps boost SEO, your site’s great search ranking doesn’t mean your content is fully accessible to people with disabilities or meets legal standards. Which brings us to the next point: the legal guidelines governing digital accessibility.
Main laws and guidelines for digital accessibility
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the key pieces of legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. For a website to be ADA compliant, it must be accessible to people who browse the web with assistive devices. Between 2017 and 2021, the number of ADA-related prosecutions increased by 400%. If your website is not accessible to people with disabilities, it is not compliant with the law and you may be sued.
Based on how the courts and the Department of Justice have interpreted the law so far, ADA compliance is clearly mandatory for government and commercial websites. Most of the lawsuits on the ADA website are against businesses that are considered “public accommodation” under the law.
But the ADA, which was enacted in 1990, does not provide specific technical standards or legal criteria for implementing digital accessibility. Instead, there are guidelines from the W3C known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that serve as the basis for modern discussions of accessibility methods and provide clear safeguards on how to format content. so that it is accessible to all users.
Although WCAG is considered a “voluntary technical standard” under the ADA, it is frequently cited in ADA lawsuits and regulations. In fact, the ADA Priority shows that using WCAG as a guideline will ensure that your site is usable and compliant. Adhering to WCAG guidelines will also help protect your business from the threat of costly litigation.
Six Steps to Making Your Website Accessible
Generally speaking, the steps for creating accessible websites fall into two categories: designing new sites and redesigning existing sites for greater accessibility.
1. Incorporate digital accessibility into website design
According to a Study 2021 by AudioEye, 50% of designers and developers say they are fairly familiar with digital accessibility.
Website accessibility starts at the very beginning of a design project and designers should approach it every step of the way. Some things to consider early on are colors, color contrasts, ALT text on images, programming text for screen readers, font styles, and careful use of interactive elements.
While designing for accessibility should be a top priority from the start, WCAG guidelines are constantly evolving, so this is not a one-time effort. Improvements in accessibility must be taken into account on an ongoing basis.
2. Regularly review existing websites
Review all new or updated content to make sure your site continues to meet accessibility standards. As WCAG guidelines evolve and new developments in accessibility aids are discovered, it is up to webmasters and designers to keep a site up to date. Since these changes are constantly happening, webmasters should implement regular accessibility monitoring.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) accessibility tools can uncover broken or missing accessibility features and automatically make fixes in real time or alert webmasters to manually fix issues. There are tools, such as AudioEye, that specialize in active monitoring to report emerging accessibility issues.
3. Recognize the current limitations of AI technology
While accessibility AI is a cost-effective solution to automating real-time accessibility for the majority of issues and continues to become increasingly advanced, there are gaps in its capabilities that require more dedicated human attention to be overcome.
The ideal solution to maintaining digital accessibility is to pair AI solutions with experts who manually verify and resolve issues. Automation will continue to improve with new developments in error detection and remediation, but in the meantime, manual monitoring and remediation is essential for a truly accessible website.
4. Use manual support to ensure digital accessibility
Designate someone to perform regular manual testing of all elements of the website. When errors and problems are found, implement manual fixes as soon as possible. Document all fixes and test to make sure the fixed fixes are followed.
5. Train and empower your team continuously
Accessibility experts are available to train your internal team in best practices. While everyone has access to WCAG, their interpretation can be difficult for webmasters, designers, and developers unfamiliar with digital accessibility.
One-off or regular training sessions can be organized to deepen certain accessibility elements. This could be especially useful when redesigning or developing a new site.
6. Stay on top of digital accessibility laws and regulations
Accessibility experts are familiar with legal proceedings surrounding website accessibility issues. Often times, businesses are shocked when faced with a web accessibility lawsuit. Enlisting expert support in these situations can be extremely helpful in navigating the process and quickly resolving existing issues to avoid further legal action.
Digital accessibility can appear to be a complex and highly technical field with moving elements. Don’t be discouraged, instead use the resources available, start implementing the steps above, and make digital accessibility part of your corporate culture.
With a combination of AI technology, human developers and designers, along with regular monitoring and enhancements, you can make your site accessible and inclusive, increase your market reach, and protect your business from possible lawsuits. judicial.