While digital transformation has taken the tech spotlight, digital accessibility has seen little movement in the process, specifically when it comes to web pages. The majority of websites aren't accessible to individuals with disabilities, according to Mark Shapiro, president of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility.
"Most websites, if you were to grade them, they'd be at that C, C- level," said Shapiro. "There are very few that would be at that B or B+ level. And a very, very tiny amount that would be that A+ level."
This lack of accommodation is surprising, since 57 million Americans live with a disability. Some 3.5 million people in the US are visually impaired, a number that is predicted to double by 2050, and 37.5 million Americans have hearing difficulties, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). That is a significant amount of people who companies aren't reaching.
SEE: Hiring kit: User experience specialist (Tech Pro Research)
A big problem is that no strict regulations exist for website accessibility. "The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) still does not formally state anything related to website accessibility," said principal Forrester analyst Gina Bhawalkar. "However, the key point is that the legal precedents for requiring digital accessibility continue to accumulate. Just last year we saw, I believe, over 500 lawsuits related to inaccessible websites or mobile experiences."
That gray area in the ADA is a major reason companies don't feel compelled to adapt, but if a company is sued, courts are typically ruling in the plaintiff's favor, said Bhawalkar. Regardless, companies are predominantly not complying because "they think it's hard and they don't know where to start," said Bhawalkar. "I often talk to companies who are just very overwhelmed thinking about how to start making their site accessible, and that whole idea just prevents them from doing anything about it typically until they're sued."
What companies fail to realize is that they are doing a huge disservice to not only those with disabilities, but to themselves.
"Why would you want to exclude millions of people from using your services or buying your goods?" said Bill Finnerty, research director at Gartner. Widening your talent pool is another important factor, Finnerty said. "The labor market is tight, and attracting the best talent is tough for everyone. Making technologies accessible for your workforce, improves diversity and can create a working environment that is more attractive to all employees," he added.
The basic strategies for making a site accessible aren't very difficult to follow. "A good accessible website is able to reach the broadest set of users, giving them the control to make the website or mobile app adjustable in contracts and font size, let them consume video content with closed captioning or audio, make sites navigable by mouse, touch screen or keyboard," said Finnerty.
Here are three steps to making your company's website more accessible to all users.
1. Read up on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The first step is to become familiar with the components of an accessible site. "Get up to speed on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that are published by the W3C," suggested Bhawalkar. "Those guidelines are going to tell you what you need to do, and they're technology agnostic, so you follow the same guidelines whether you're talking about your website or your native mobile app or your mobile website or even a .pdf document."
The WCAG standard is a great place to start, but Finnerty also recommends using it more as a guide and making adjustments based on user feedback.
The second step is evaluating your own website. "Get your site audited so you know what the issues are and what you need to do to improve," said Bharwalkar. Figure out the major problem areas, or gaps in accessibility, and go from there.
A great way to make sure your website is accessible is to ask individuals with disabilities to navigate the page, giving them the direct opportunity to help improve the issue. Shapiro recommended this tactic as well: "We have sighted subject matter experts that know how to use all the different technology and we analyze the website, and we also have people who are visually disabled who go through websites and identify specific issues," he said.
All of the problems may not evaporate overnight, but at least this will mean strides are being taken to improve.
3. Make accessibility a priority
All companies should invoke a standard of digital accessibility. To prevent accessibility efforts from losing steam, managers should formulate a rule of accessibility that is followed year after year. Not only does this help organizations maintain accountability, but it also helps track progress, said Bhawalkar.
Prioritizing accessibility in a company can be easy, whether it's "updating your general [accessibility] standards, training your development staff on how to code with the Guidelines, or also just educating them on the technologies and why accessibility is important," said Bhawalkar.
- IT leader's guide to achieving workplace diversity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Twitter updates reporting guidelines to include people with disabilities (ZDNet)
- Digital transformation: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft using AI to empower people living with disabilities (ZDNet)
- Mozilla voice-controlled browser could make web surfing more accessible, productive (TechRepublic)
Macy Bayern has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Macy Bayern is an Associate Staff Writer for TechRepublic. A recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Macy covers tech news and trends.