What is Digital Accessibility?
Digital Accessibility refers to a way of structuring online content and tools so they can be used by all people, including those with disabilities.
Websites: retail, non-profit, blogger… everyone!
Surveys and Contact forms
Online training courses and materials
3rd party widgets and software that you add to a website :
Menu online ordering
E-commerce Shopping carts
Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook feed display
Any form of digital communication.
Why all the fuss? It only affects a small group of people, right?
Actually there are approximately 60 million Americans alone who have one or more disabilities that require alternative tools beyond the standard mouse and 20/20 eyesight to access websites.
It is easy to assume that this would only affect people with vision problems but actually there are 5 categories of disabilities that have difficulty accessing websites:
VISUAL : color blindness, low vision, blindness (10% of Americans, roughly 25.5 million people)
HEARING : deaf or hard of hearing (15% of Americans, 37.5 million people)
SPEECH : mute (not able to speak) or have speech impediment
MOTOR : do not have use of or limited use of certain limbs, including hands and arms (so using a mouse and keyboard are difficult). Permanent or Temporary (such as a broken arm).
COGNITIVE : difficulty understanding/processing written language such as dyslexia or autism
And this is only in the USA, imagine the the total number across the entire world! As each generation lives longer, more and more people will find themselves in a situation where the ability to access digital information is limited.
503, WCAG, AAA Oh my!
Back in the 1990’s, the government and a group of engineers and code developers realized that as part of the emerging best practices for building and developing software and websites, needed to include accessibility by those with disabilities. Here are vocabulary you will come across if you Google “ADA website compliance” and how they all play a role in the evolution of website development.
Section 503/508: Refers to Federal Government standard compliance as it has been updated over the past 20 years. It began before the internet but eventual came to include websites and digital information. These are precise guidelines that must be followed by all federal government offices and 3rd party subcontractors that service government offices or agencies.
ADA (American Disability Act): This set of recommendations is for everyone else, focusing mostly on physical accessibility but recently expanded to also include websites.
WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines): Both Section 503/508 and ADA compliance guidelines are based off this extensive list of best practices for digital accessibility. It outlines 3 levels of compliance:
A: Most basic adjustments to make content accessible using current adaptive technology (AT) such as screen readers or magnifiers.
AA: Intermediate, Basic content and structural changes along with more detailed alternate adjustments per category of disability addressed individually.
AAA: Advanced, Basic content and structural changes but also an effort to make almost or all content accessible by all categories of disability.