The internet and software applications have quickly become essential tools for our daily lives. Whether you want to access information, communicate with others, or seek social inclusion, the internet and software applications have become intertwined with almost every aspect of our day-to-day.
For things so utilized in everyday life, can we truly say the internet and software applications are accessible to all?
I was surprised to see how far from it we are. Recently, when asked to look for tools for testing Web Accessibility for a client’s web app, I was exposed to the reality of digital accessibility, a topic I was so oblivious to that I honestly felt a bit embarrassed of myself at first.
Reflecting on my values of compassion and concern for various causes, I found myself taken aback by this realization. Despite advocating for so much, I’d missed something right under my nose, something that often is overlooked.
In this blog, I hope to define and explain the importance of digital accessibility; sharing some shocking statistics, practical implementation tools, and how we can further improve accessibility to make the internet and software applications inclusive for everyone.
What is Digital Accessibility?
The US Department of Health and Human Services defines Digital Accessibility as the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with or access to web content, digital tools, and technologies by people with disabilities.
Given the number of Americans – over 40 million – with varying disabilities, providing digital accessibility gives an equal and complete experience for all users.
It gives equal access to information and opportunity.
Accessibility Barriers & Identifying Gaps
Recently, the Department of Justice issued a guidance statement giving a few examples of what website accessibility barriers could be:
- Poor color contrast.
- Use of color alone to give information.
- Lack of text alternatives (“alt text”) on images.
- No captions on videos.
- Inaccessible online forms.
- Mouse-only navigation (lack of keyboard navigation)
If that’s not enough, consider that millions of people must do one of the following to be able to do simple tasks online:
- Zoom a page by 150% or more due to low vision issues
- Navigate around a website without a mouse due to Motor or Mobility issues
- Need Close Captioning due to Auditory issues
I can go on; the list is exhaustive. Unfortunately, there are many more examples of the difficulties people face trying to do things that most of us take for granted, such as online banking, applying for jobs, using social media, and shopping online.
Understanding & Bridging Gaps
According to US Census Bureau data from 2021, there are about 42.5 million Americans with disabilities, making up 13% of the civilian noninstitutionalized population.
Estimates show that one in four adults in the U.S. identifies as having a disability that affects their daily life, including whether they can access digital information.
Consider trying the following for a more vivid illustration of the everyday hurdles faced by those navigating the internet with accessibility limitations:
- Close your eyes and try to navigate around a website or a phone app without any assistive technology.
- Mute the volume and watch videos without captions and try to figure out what’s being said.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which develops international standards for the Web, created a set of guidelines titled Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
WCAG was developed with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments.
In a 2023 study of websites by WebAIM, in the home pages alone, close to 50 million distinct accessibility errors were detected.
Users with disabilities would expect to encounter errors on 1 in every 21 home page elements with which they engage.
The most common WCAG2 failures are:
- Low Contrast Text: On average, each home page had 30.4 distinct instances of low-contrast text, down slightly from 31.7 in 2022.
- Missing Alt text for images: 22.1% of all home page images (9.6 per page on average) had missing alternative text.
- Empty Links: 17.3% of pages had ambiguous link text, such as “click here,” “more,” “continue,” etc. 17.2% of home pages had a “skip” link present, up from 13% in 2022.
- However, one out of every 6 “skip” links was broken—either they were hidden in a way that made them inaccessible, or the link target was not present on the page.
- Missing form input labels: 35.8% of form inputs identified were not properly labeled.
- Empty buttons
- Missing document language
Clearly, there are many gaps in accessibility that still need to be bridged.
However, the goal is to make web-based content, like websites and web-based software applications, accessible for users of every ability—including people with disabilities who use assistive technology.
Practical Accessibility Implementation
Following WCAG guidelines is an easy way of making a website usable for everyone.
Their four main guiding principles of accessibility are known by the acronym POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
Making a website or software application accessible can be as simple as keeping in mind some factors while designing:
- Choosing a content management system that supports accessibility.
- Using proper alt text for images, to assist people using screen readers.
- Giving links unique and descriptive names to help those using screen readers.
- Closed Captioning for hearing disabilities.
- Captions are text alternatives for audio content synchronized with the video.
- Using color with care- sufficient color contrast helps differentiate between the page content font and the background.
- It helps visitors with color deficiency, low vision, or low contrast vision.
- Add Zooming in without loss of content or functionality.
- Ensuring that all content can be accessed with the keyboard alone.
- Some people cannot use a mouse for web navigation but instead use a keyboard or an alternative input device. Hence every link, control, and feature should be accessible through the keyboard.
- Designing forms for accessibility, so they can be filled using the keyboard.
- Using tables for tabular data, not for layout.
- Making dynamic content accessible.
- When content updates dynamically (i.e., without a page refresh), screen readers may not be aware.
Benefits of Digital Accessibility
Digital Accessibility widens our reach. Be mindful that the audience is not just comprised of people without accessibility needs.
Any accessibility efforts will help improve and elevate the ‘User experience’ for your entire audience. And isn’t the goal of any app?
Aside from providing a great experience for all, being accessibility compliant can also take care of the following:
- Commerce: Improved user experience to reach a wider audience.
- Better Search rankings: Search engines favor websites that provide a good user experience and are accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.
- Legal Compliance: In 2022, over 3255 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III website accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal courts.
If digital accessibility is about equal access to information, why hasn’t accessibility been inherently integrated into app or web design processes?
Ideally, it should seamlessly integrate into workflows rather than being treated as a special division or section. Even from a commercial standpoint, the significance of digital accessibility becomes apparent when considering the customer experience.
Typically, here at Frogslayer, accessibility and how much is required depends on the project. We prioritize having meaningful conversations with our clients to define their accessibility requirements and needs. Our QA team takes pride in making sure web-based software is accessible to all.
Awareness of digital accessibility is better than it was, but nowhere near where it should be. There is and always will be room for continued improvement in how to make information easily accessible to all.
Making digital content and technology accessible to individuals with disabilities ensures everyone has equal access to information, resources, and opportunities, regardless of ability.
It makes for a better society, with a better informed and engaged population, promoting greater understanding and empathy toward individuals with disabilities.