Digital accessibility is key to empowering customers with disabilities to use your online services or products. When you implement digital accessibility, you open the door to 1 billion new consumers who would never be able to access your brand otherwise. Learn about digital accessibility concepts that companies like Facebook and Twitter prioritize in their business.
What is digital accessibility?
As Nationwide Insurance puts it, digital accessibility is techniques and technologies that enable people with disabilities to “access electronic resources such as the internet, software, mobile devices, e-readers, etc.” UNICEF has noted that these technologies and techniques can include, but are not limited to:
- High contrast: a visual effect that allows users with low vision to better see the pages and content; a contrast ratio of 4.5:1, which can be measured with this simple online color contrast tool, is the minimum for all users.
- Avoiding pull-down menus: their access can be particularly challenging for users with physical disabilities.
- Text that can be resized: resizing that allows low-vision users to better see the content.
- Accessible fonts: sans-serif or block-serif fonts that are easy to read for users with low vision.
- Providing closed captions.
- A glossary with sign language video explanations that contains new concepts or difficult words.
- Adding short and simple summaries at the top of documents to assist in comprehension.
- Ensuring support for keyboard navigation: users may not be able to navigate with a mouse so all functionality should be available through a keyboard.
- Breaking up large amounts of content with summaries, images, quizzes, etc.
Digital accessibility techniques must be compatible with assistive technologies. Assistive technologies are devices people with disabilities use to access digital content, which has also been described as, “anything from mobility devices to screen magnification software. Assistive technology is anything that improves the user’s ability to access or enjoy a program, service, activity, or facility.”
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has created what is widely considered the definitive web accessibility standards. These are called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The Department of Justice has declared that websites that represent public accommodations must adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which WCAG intends to provide a path to regarding accessibility. In addition, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act officially requires the use of it for federal agencies (by recommendation of the U.S. Access Board). Furthermore, many courts that deal with accessibility cases are increasingly demanding that websites are compliant with WCAG 2.0/1 AA. Thus, companies should base their digital accessibility practices around these standards.
The principles of WCAG are as follows, according to the W3C WAI.
Principle 1 – Perceivable
Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
- Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia.
- Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content.
Principle 2 – Operable
User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Give users enough time to read and use content.
- Do not use content that causes seizures or physical reactions.
- Help users navigate and find content.
- Make it easier to use inputs other than keyboard.
Principle 3 – Understandable
Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- Make text readable and understandable.
- Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
Principle 4 – Robust
Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.
Components of web accessibility
The W3C WAI defines the components of web accessibility that are relied upon to make an accessible user experience:
- Web content - refers to any part of a website, including text, images, forms, and multimedia, as well as any markup code, scripts, applications, and such.
- User agents - software that people use to access web content, including desktop graphical browsers, voice browsers, mobile phone browsers, multimedia players, plug-ins, and some assistive technologies.
- Authoring tools - software or services that people use to produce web content, including code editors, document conversion tools, content management systems, blogs, database scripts, and other tools.
They advised that “these components interrelate and support each other. For instance, web content needs to include text alternatives for images. This information needs to be processed by web browsers and then conveyed to assistive technologies, such as screen readers. To create such text alternatives, authors need authoring tools that support them to do so.”
If your staff does not know how to address these concepts, that is okay. There are digital accessibility vendors who specialize in identifying and designing accessibility needs in digital content. However, it is important that your organization have an understanding of these concepts and components to ensure an accessible user experience.
Providing staff training that addresses these concepts at the appropriate level will help your organization build momentum and improve its accessibility maturity. Having a thorough understanding of accessibility principles also reinforces accessibility best practices, which will no doubt improve your organization's culture of inclusion and access.