That's all well and good, but digital accessibility is usually overlooked.
As a result of the pandemic, more and more people, including those with disabilities, rely on digital products and services for work, shopping, banking, entertainment, and healthcare.
But with nearly 20% of the population living with a disability, not everyone can access those services due to their inadequate design. That’s why digital accessibility is more important now than ever for any organization that provides digital products and services.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What digital accessibility is.
- The four principles of digital accessibility.
- Why your business needs to make digital access a priority based on the international and federal regulations, guidelines, and standards.
What is Digital Accessibility?
Whether a visually-impaired person uses a screen reader to access a webpage or someone has a cognitive disability that requires straightforward content and navigation, there are many reasons to make your digital presence accessible.
Web Accessibility vs Digital Accessibility
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) states,
“The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.”
Digital accessibility includes web accessibility plus the accessibility of anything digital such as video, audio, electronic documents, animations, kiosks, and mobile apps.
The WCAG includes technical recommendations on how to make web content more accessible for people with disabilities. The WCAG defines content as information on a web page or web application, including text, images, and sounds, as well as coding and markup that defines the structure and presentation.
It’s also the standard reference for most website accessibility-related legislation, including the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) in the US and the European Web Accessibility Directive.
The WCAG has gone through several updates since it was first published in 1995.
Each iteration adds new requirements:
- WCAG 2.0 – published 11 December 2008 – had 61 success criteria.
- WCAG 2.1 – published on 5 June 2018 (the current W3C recommended version) – introduced 17 more success criteria to address mobile accessibility, people with low vision, and people with cognitive and learning disabilities.
- WCAG 2.2 – published 5 October 2023 – expanded on 2.1 with nine new success criteria, plus an update to one, to make content more accessible to a wider range of users.
- WCAG 3.0 – still in development and not expected to be finalized for the next few years.
The WCAG is categorized according to the four (POUR): perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Each principle has testable success criteria classified by three levels – A, AA, and AAA – with the easiest being A and the most challenging being AAA.
Principles of Digital Accessibility (POUR)
Common Examples of Digital Accessibility
- Provides text and/or audio alternatives for any non-text content
- Includes content that can be presented in different ways without losing information, context, or structure.
- Permits all functionality from a keyboard if needed, as opposed to a cursor.
- Is not designed in a way that is known to cause seizures.
- Includes ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
- Allows screen readers to parse a website for a user with visual impairments.
- Includes closed-captioned videos for individuals with hearing impairments.
- Includes “alt text” on images for individuals with visual impairments.
- Allows navigation by keyboard (i.e. using the Tab key) for users who may not be able to operate a mouse.
Why Should Digital Accessibility Be a Business Priority?
But digital accessibility is not only about people with disabilities using your website with ease.
While 71% of web users with a disability will simply leave a website that is not accessible, users without disabilities also find that accessibility features help them navigate your site more effectively.
When you maintain an accessible digital presence, all your visitors benefit.
Improve user experience
Increase sales revenue
- Reach a larger customer base that includes the disabled population.
- Make it easier for everyone to use your site.
- Make mobile access easier.
- Improve SEO rankings.
- Drive innovation.
The W3C presents case studies of Fortune 100 companies, including Apple and Barclays, that have seen improved search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach stemming from accessible design.
Stay compliant and avoid costly lawsuits
Lawsuits alleging digital accessibility violations are increasing, and several high-profile companies have had to pay large settlements.
Following WCAG guidelines helps organizations stay compliant and avoid costly lawsuits.
Regulations, Guidelines, and Standards
There are several US and worldwide regulations, guidelines, and standards to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
Web accessibility falls under Title III of the ADA, which states that all areas of public accommodation – including hotels, schools, restaurants, gyms, retailers, libraries, and doctors – must provide equal access to information and services for everyone.
All websites that fall under the category of ‘Public Accommodations’ – i.e. businesses that are open to the general public – will need to comply with Title III of the ADA.
Although Section 508 only applies to federal agencies and federally funded programs in the United States, many global companies and organizations aim to be Section 508 compliant, too.
Failure to comply with CVAA leaves an organization subject to disability discrimination lawsuits.
How Accessible Are Your Digital Properties?
If you’re looking for more help to improve the user experience, increase your sales revenue, remain compliant, and avoid costly lawsuits, then check out The Essential Accessibility Handbook.