How Important Is Digital Accessibility?


On October 28, Ellen Doornbos, a local web developer and Certified Professional of Accessibility Core Competencies, gave a presentation about the importance of digital accessibility. This presentation was called HTML + A11y, and among the attendees was our own web developer, Mike Reed. Here are some highlights from this presentation.

What Is Digital Accessibility?

Digital accessibility means ensuring equal access to websites, mobile apps, and electronic documents for people with disabilities. The goal of any developer with a concern for accessibility is that any user, regardless of their disability or disabilities, should be able to access the same content and functionality on a given website. This is not the case at all on the internet as is currently exists.

Ask yourself: When you create a website, are you creating it for just one type of person, or will you be making it accessible to all types of people based on their individual needs? This is something both developers and website owners need to consider now and going forward.

People with disabilities are not the same. There is no single group of disabled people. Some cannot access web content because of vision impairment. Other people cannot hear well or at all. Others have cognitive, neurological, physical, or speech impairments, or multiple types of impairment that create additional access challenges. There is a wide variety of technological solutions that have been invented to help people with disabilities access and work technology. From screen magnification to voice control, you can find many of these adaptations in the settings of your computer or smartphone. Others require more hardware.

All websites should be navigable using the keyboard alone. If this is possible on any given website, ninety percent of the job is done. The other ten percent will require adding and correcting the HTML. The assistive technology that disabled people use to navigate the internet requires well-structured markup to work right. The developer's job is to write clear, meaningful HTML to explain to people who cannot access all information that is there in detail. This means creating descriptive text for everything.

The Future of Digital Accessibility

Lest you think that digital accessibility is not something companies or developers need to worry about, Domino's Pizza is facing a lawsuit for not being accessible to the visually impaired. Domino's has argued that the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) does not apply to websites as it was written before the internet became woven into every aspect of daily life. However, the Supreme Court has declined to hear Domino's appeal, leaving them open to legal challenges going forward.

Currently, most HTML work that developers do is done for SEO value and increasing traffic to a website. However, user experience on a given website is equally or more important than the initial click in. If a customer cannot navigate a website, he will click out. If that customer has disabilities that the site has made no effort to accommodate, his user experience will be abysmal. Digital accessibility is going to be an issue that will be more and more important in the future for users, developers, and website owners, so understanding the issues and solutions now is helpful.

We will be writing a series of articles on digital accessibility and practical ways to accommodate it. Look for these on our blog in the coming months.

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