When you commit to web accessibility, you ensure that your product (whether it is a website, web application, or mobile app) is operable by people with a wide range of abilities. As a result, potential barriers to access are not only removed, but you avoid creating them in the first place. No matter if your organization is in the public, private, educational or charity sector, making sure your product is accessible will increase your audience reach.
Who benefits from accessibility?
The US Census Bureau “Americans with Disabilities” document (PDF) states that, in 2010, approximately 56.7 million people (18.7%) of the US population had a disability of some kind, and about 38.3 million (12.6%) had a severe disability. The United Nations’ World Report on Disability states that, worldwide, more than one billion people live with some form of disability, of whom nearly 200 million experience considerable difficulties in functioning on a daily basis. Even if you’re not currently disabled, you may be affected by disability as you get older – by the time we retire, over 30% of us will have some form of disability, even if it is minor, such as increased hearing and visual impairments and a reduction in dexterity. This can significantly change the way we are able to use technology over time.
What are the legal requirements surrounding accessibility?
Accessibility is a legal requirement in many regions around the world. Countries in every continent have legislation that requires websites, web applications and mobile apps to be accessible. Examples include the Equality Act 2010 in the United Kingdom, the Disability Discrimination Act in Australia, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the US. In the US the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that information, programs and services of covered entities be available to people with disabilities unless the provider can demonstrate it would be an undue burden to do so.
Entities include state and local government (including state schools) and public accommodations which are private entities that serve the public (including private schools). The Department of Justice has clearly stated all entities must offer digital content (web and mobile) that is available to everyone in the absence of an ADA defense. Other regulations in the US include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which prevents discrimination by any entity receiving federal funds. Most states have similar provisions for entities receiving state funds and also have non-discrimination laws similar to the ADA. Section 508 prevents the federal government from purchasing any technology that is not accessible to everyone and states have smaller versions of 508 that are intended to guarantee accessible state purchases. Federal and state laws requiring equal employment opportunities also impact digital content for employees.
What if I have limited resources?
We recognize that monetary concerns are often the primary driver in directing resources when introducing a new product or updating an existing product. After all, successful projects generate an appropriate return on investment that covers all necessary costs and provides a desirable profit. Yet, there is no easy way of knowing how many people will be impacted if you design a product that is ultimately inaccessible and, even if it were possible to find this out, the associated costs of removing accessibility barriers are not easily quantifiable at the outset. On the other hand, we encourage you to view accessibility as a long term driver for innovation rather than a short term cost. By focusing design on the unique needs and preferences of people with disabilities, new insights that are not immediately obvious can be gained, resulting in innovative products that are more delightful for everyone.
How can I implement an accessibility strategy within my organization?
No single person can ensure a product is accessible on their own. Adopting an accessibility ethos involves taking decisions at every step of a product’s development, from the early design stages through to development and content management. As a result, everyone in an organization has their own part to play in ensuring the product is accessible. An appropriate accessibility strategy therefore involves directing resources towards the creation of an organizational accessibility culture, whereby accessibility barriers are addressed long before they are embedded into designs and code. Steps within this strategy involve:
- Establishing an organisational commitment to accessibility that includes identifying key stakeholders and their responsibility for accessibility.
- Understanding current state in terms of both the accessibility of existing products and services, and in terms of existing processes and standards.
- Establishing an organisational accessibility strategy that includes the defining of a benchmark that all digital products and services must meet.
- Ensuring that stakeholder groups have the necessary skills and knowledge to meet their responsibilities towards accessibility, including people responsible for project, product and service management, procurement, content authoring, development, quality assurance, and user research.
- Involving people with disabilities early and throughout the process of understanding a problem space, and designing technology to address that problem and therefore to meet business and user goals.
In taking the above approach, short term, ad-hoc, and ultimately costly practices that lead to accessibility barriers are reduced.