In the physical world, we have developed some necessary critical infrastructure to assist the disabled and handicapped — though this process is ongoing. Whether that's the wheelchair ramp at your local cafe or the front-of-store parking spaces at your favorite grocery store, you've no doubt come in contact with accessibility. Unfortunately, most of us view accessibility as physical — things that we can feel, touch, or sense.
But, what about digital accessibility? How do you assist those who have impairments that prevent them from seeing, browsing, and understanding the internet the way that others often do?
Today, we're going to discuss the rising need for accessibility standards on our websites, how it helps, and how you can start making your website more accessible today.
Understanding Accessibility in the Digital Space
Before we dive into specifics, let's talk about what accessibility means as it pertains to digital "things."
Accessibility is the design of goods, services, devices, or environments for those with disabilities. So, accessibility in the digital world means designing goods (i.e., digital products, games, etc.), services (i.e., SaaS, programs, etc.), and environments (i.e., websites, landing pages, etc.) for those with disabilities.
But, to be clear, you're not designing websites for disabled individuals. Instead, you are making websites usable for those with disabilities. There's a big difference here. Accessibility has never been about specifically catering to one group or another — instead, you should view it as making your website as user-friendly as possible for everyone, including those with disabilities.
The goal is to make your website navigable, browsable, searchable, and explorable for those with disabilities — as well as the rest of your userbase.
What is Disability?
Before we define a disability, let's make a quick clarification. The term disability as it's used legally (such as to define eligibility for Social Security benefits) differs from the actual definition of disability. We won't be exploring the term as it's used granularly in legal matters.
A disability is any condition — mental or physical — that impairs an individual's ability to do activities or explore their environment (i.e., interact, understand, see, hear, etc.)
To get a better understanding of disabilities, refer to the definition provided by the CDC.
Note: The CDC definition differs than that provided by both Social Security, law, and the ADA. It is a more inclusive definition that makes sense given both the broad range of impairments that exist and their impact on digital exploration.
What Are the Types of Disabilities?
There are 5 functional types of disability and three modes of disability.
- Vision: Difficulty seeing
- Cognitive: Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions, or understanding
- Mobility: Difficulty climbing, walking, or moving
- Self-Care: Difficulty bathing, dressing, etc.
- Independent-Living: Difficulty performing day-to-day operations alone
For example, someone can have a permanent vision disability (i.e., blindness) or a temporary vision disability (i.e., temporarily blurred vision due to eye issue).
How Common Are Disabilities?
According to the CDC, 1 in 5 people live with one or more disabilities. That's 26% of the adult population of the United States. Of that 26%, 8.1 million individuals suffer from vision disabilities alone. To put that in perspective, picture 26% of your traffic being unable to accurately interact with your website.
In Canada, 1 in 5 people lives with one or more disabilities, which means that 6.2 million working adults suffer from disabilities.
That's a large chunk of your userbase!
Unfortunately, disability awareness has been hindered to the physical space. When the ADA first introduced laws protecting those with disabilities, there was no internet (at least, in the way we understand it now). So, these laws were created specifically for the physical space.
But, that's rapidly changing.
Why Creating an Accessible Website is Important
For starters, making the internet accessible for everyone is crucial for businesses, academia, non-profits, and generally anyone who operates a website. Think about how much the internet impacts all of our lives. We use it for entertainment, shopping, reading, learning, researching, and even for necessary errands like paying bills.
Restricting a significant portion of the population from doing these tasks is obviously an issue that we, as a society, need to address.
But, for the purposes of this content, let's look at how website accessibility impacts your website.
Accessibility is Baked into Success
Did you know that research conducted among Fortune 100 companies has shown that accessibility and disability inclusion is a core component of their strategies?
In fact, attempts to create accessible products and services has led to the birth of some of the world's most successful ventures. Voice search, email, and even the typewriter were all invented for accessibility.
This innovation-led surge of attempting to find ways to include those with disabilities is a key part of Google's strategy. As part of Google's desire to catalog information across the world and make it accessible to everyone, they have consistently used accessibility to drive profits, branding, and create compelling, unique products and services.
Accessibility Leads to Compliance
In the United States, website accessibility compliance is complicated. In 2017, Section 508 was revised with the requirement that by January, 2018, all federal agencies and contractors must, among other revisions, comply with WCAG 2.0 A/AA. So in the context of federal government agencies, the answer is simple: WCAG is formalized under law as the accessibility standard.The high profile cases of both Southwest Airlines and Hotels.com showed mixed results, and cases continue to pile up on the court docket. As of now, accessibility has plenty of national attention — and digital accessibility can result in fines and negative branding.
In Canada, the laws regarding website accessibility are also mixed. In the province of Ontario, AODA requires that businesses with 50+ employees must adhere to website accessibility standards. But, website accessibility as a whole is fractured across multiple laws and channels.
This could be cleared up with the upcoming Accessible Canada Act (working title), which aims to create clear definitions and laws regarding website accessibility, in Canada. Specifically, it aims to use WCAG 2.0 (more on this below) standards to standardize website accessibility standards for government and business (private, public, and non-profit). For example, did you know that by January 1, 2021, all public sector organizations in Ontario must have 100% accessible web content, meeting the accessibility requirements of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. This is because the rules are getting stricter under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
Abroad, the rules are more strict. In Norway, all commercial websites are legally required to adhere to strict accessibility standards. And, the ambiguity in the laws in the United States are leading to high levels of fines and court cases — something that no business wants to go through.
For businesses, having an accessible website that's easily accessed by those with disabilities is a sure-fire way to avoid any issues regarding accessibility and accessibility standards.
Accessibility Increases Your Reach
Finally, having an accessible website simply increases your reach. With some one-billion disabled people in the world, website accessibility is mission-critical for any business that wants to approach a broader audience.
In fact, accessible websites reach an audience with an approximate $6.9 trillion in disposable income.
To see some businesses that have taken advantage of this reach, check out the following case studies.
Common Website Accessibility Standards
Let's take a look at some of the most common website accessibility standards that you can use to assist you in creating accessible website environments.
- WCAG 2.0 - Defined by W3C — the Web Accessibility Initiative — the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (2.0) was created in a joint venture between W3C and thousands of individuals and businesses around the world. This is the core set of accessibility standards for website design. The far-reaching impact of these guidelines has sparked adoption around the globe and has been the basis for laws in Australia, Canada, Israel, and the European Union.
- 508 - Any federal employee or person who plans to use technologies to be "developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies." must comply with Section 508. These accessibility standards also pertain to websites.
- ADA - Like 508, ADA has some specific requirements for compliance. Currently, they state that all private businesses with over 15 employees, all government agencies, and all companies that benefit the public must comply with these regulations. There is some uncertainty over the fines surrounding non-compliance with ADA as court cases have proved to be mixed.
- AODA - Based on WCAG 2.0, AODA is a set of standards for website accessibility in Canada. These have been made into law, and fines are distributed for non-compliance.
Most of these accessibility standards share commonalities. Currently, WCAG 2.0 is the most commonly accepted accessibility standard for non-government websites and Section 508 for any federal website (or sites doing business with the government.)
Website accessibility should be a mission-critical part of any businesses core digital strategy. Not only does creating an accessible digital ecosystem help you reach a broader, more diverse audience, but regulations are looming, and fines are already being distributed.
If you want to reach more people, sell more products, and participate in making the internet and your business a better place, adopting website accessibility standards is a great place to start.
Are you looking for a CMS that gives you the tools to meet these accessibility standards? Contact us.