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Why Should Your Organization Care About Digital Accessibility?

Digital Access

Beyond customer satisfaction, there are increasing legal and humanitarian consequences for businesses that don’t utilize inclusive software design, including internal software used by employees.

While it’s generally understood that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination, it’s less clear how this applies to the digital accessibility of your organization.

Understanding the Need for Digital Accessibility

The CDC defines a disability as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” These impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions can range from mild to severe. They can be temporary or permanent. They can also be incredibly diverse and difficult to accommodate.

So why does your organization need to be concerned with understanding and accommodating disability? Is it worth dedicating resources to improving digital accessibility?

As of 2018, the CDC released a functional study indicating that 85.3 million Americans identify as having a disability. With an estimated $1.28 trillion dollars in annual disposable income, this isn’t a demographic your organization can afford to ignore.

The disability market includes friends and family

Accommodating the needs of people with disabilities also offers the opportunity for your organization to reach their friends and family members. The CDC estimates these additional 149 million Americans have an estimated $7.1 trillion dollars in annual disposable income.

By respecting the individual needs of all users, socially conscious consumers and advocates will take notice and become brand loyalists.

Employees have disabilities too

Hiring an employee with disabilities while failing to provide that worker with the tools needed to perform their job is a discriminatory practice. Be sure all accessibility assessments review the technologies required by your team for time reporting, payroll information, meeting and event scheduling platforms, sales systems, etc.

Search engines love accessibility features

The same metadata devoured by screen readers is also a significant factor in search engine rankings and improved click-through-rates. Alt text describing images and descriptive link anchor text also provide context and validation to search engine crawlers.

Also read: The Five Barriers to Digital Innovation

Creating a Digital Accessibility Strategy

Your digital accessibility responsibility is to provide an equal and equivalent experience for users of all abilities, much like a ramp offers wheelchair users access to buildings with stairs.

While there are many approaches to improving digital accessibility, and one size doesn’t fit all, it’s best to begin by identifying the functionality of your application. Your organization’s ability to improve digital accessibility relies on clearly defining how any person access or benefits from a site, system, or application.

A successful digital accessibility strategy will eliminate all barriers for disabled users.

Supplement Digital Accessibility with Inclusive Behaviors

It may not be possible (or it may take time) to replace all of the software solutions employed by your organization with fully accessible alternatives. Consider bridging accessibility gaps with inclusive behaviors and simple practices.

As an example, a few small changes can significantly improve interactions with clients, customers, or employees, in virtual meetings or during support calls:

  • Identify yourself before you speak, when the interaction isn’t simply one-on-one. Do not assume that just because your camera is on, that the person you are speaking to is able to see you clearly.
  • If possible, enable captions for the platform you are using.
  • Avoid using culture-specific idioms.
  • Replace acronyms and abbreviations with complete words.
  • Describe and review on-screen images.
  • Appoint a moderator for meetings with larger populations.

Curb Cut Effect: Accessibility Benefits Everyone

I’ll bet that the last time you pushed a heavy cart full of groceries to your car, took your child for a walk in a stroller, or backed your vehicle out of a driveway, the sloping ramp down from the sidewalk to the road made life easier. Initially designed for wheelchairs and power chairs, these curb cuts are a great example of how designing for disabilities can actually make things better for everyone.

Let’s take it a few steps further:

  • Utilize the closed captioning on a television in a loud room?
  • Use Siri to set a reminder or send a message when you need to be hands-free?
  • Turn up the contrast on your smartphone to make the screen easier to read?
  • Choose an elevator instead of the stairs?

While it may be tempting for your organization to be satisfied when technology solutions meet the needs of most people, increasing accessibility is an opportunity to make things better for all people.

Note: This a reprint of an article by Jillian Koskie appearing on the IT Business Edge web site.