Making sure that everyone, no matter their abilities, can access the information or services you offer is what we call accessibility. When online content is accessible, it means that people with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities can have an equal experience. Many times, people using the web rely on assistive devices, so our websites and online content must be designed to work well with these devices.
In today’s world, where online presence is important, not everyone takes the necessary steps to make their content accessible. That’s why we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness and making online content and products accessible to over one billion people with disabilities. It’s held every year on the third Thursday of May, and it’s not just a virtual event – there are also public events held in various countries across six continents.
Importance of Promoting an Inclusive Society
Research from Gallup shows that in workplaces where everyone feels included, employees are more engaged, show higher support for their company, and are more likely to stick around. Despite this, only 23% of employees consider themselves engaged, which means there’s a big opportunity for organizations to increase productivity and results through inclusion.
Creating a Sense of Belonging
Accepting and celebrating each employee’s differences creates a feeling of belonging. Inclusion and belonging essentially mean the same thing. When people feel included, they feel like they fit in, and their unique qualities are valued at work. This is important for building a positive workplace culture.
Improving Employee Experience
In an inclusive environment, employees feel comfortable speaking up, sharing ideas, and helping others without fear. This fosters a sense of satisfaction and loyalty. Inclusive companies are not only better at recruiting and retaining top talent, but these employees also become strong advocates for the company.
Encouraging innovation comes with its share of risks, and a workplace that embraces inclusivity helps employees feel at ease in taking those risks. Without that sense of inclusion, people might shy away from sharing new ideas or offering feedback, hindering the innovative process.
Having diversity and inclusion at work opens up avenues for more effective problem-solving, decision-making, and revenue generation. The variety of backgrounds leads to diverse thinking, varied problem-solving approaches, and a range of experiences that contribute to overall performance.
In an inclusive workplace, employees are free to tackle problems in their own unique ways. Everyone’s thinking and working styles are shaped by their life experiences, providing a spectrum of perspectives that fosters innovation and effective problem-solving—something a more uniform workforce may lack.
Leadership plays a huge role in creating an inclusive environment. What leaders say and do can make a significant difference in how included employees feel. Companies that prioritize leadership focus on inclusion are proven to be more profitable and successful.
International Accessibility Standards
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
Created by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG gives guidelines to make web content more accessible for people with disabilities.
WCAG follows four principles known as POUR:
Perceivable: Info and interfaces must be presented in a way users can understand.
Operable:Users should be able to interact with interfaces and navigate them.
Understandable: Users should grasp both information and interface operations.
Robust:Content must be strong enough to be interpreted by various user agents, including assistive tech.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Started in 1990, ADA is a civil rights law against discrimination for people with disabilities in public life, like jobs, schools, transportation, and public spaces. ADA Title III focuses on public accommodations, including rules for accessible websites and digital services.
Part of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, Section 508 sets rules for electronic and info tech used by the federal government. Standards under Section 508 address accessibility in federal agencies, covering websites, software, and other digital communication.
European Accessibility Act
The European Accessibility Act (EAA) aims to enhance product and service accessibility for people with disabilities in the internal market. It includes various products and services like computers, ATMs, smartphones, banking services, and more. EU member states must incorporate the EAA into their national laws.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
Passed in 2005, AODA wants to make Ontario accessible for people with disabilities by setting and enforcing accessibility standards. AODA covers standards in customer service, info and communication, employment, transportation, and public space design. It sets timelines for each standard, aiming for full accessibility by 2025.
Challenges in Accessibility
Legal and Technical Ambiguity
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important legislation ensuring web accessibility, but it lacks specific technical guidance. Courts often turn to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for standards, but the interpretation can vary. This ambiguity poses a risk for businesses, especially as the number of ADA-related lawsuits has increased.
Misleading Discourse and Lack of Transparency
Overlays, tools used to detect and resolve accessibility issues, are a contentious topic. Some vendors make promises that their overlays can fix everything, but they often fall short, especially with certain types of content and when interfering with assistive technology.
Current Limits of Technology
While automated solutions can spot and fix many common accessibility problems, they’re not quite ready to go solo. According to a recent study on over a thousand websites, some automation can catch around 70% of typical accessibility issues and fix about two-thirds of them. The study compared automated tools to human testing and fixing.
But for the remaining issues, automation is still in its early stages. The current solutions can’t quite grasp the more subtle accessibility problems that need a deep understanding of a webpage’s content and purpose.
Even though automation can handle most issues efficiently, there’s still that 30% where manual checks and fixes come in. Hence, it’s safe to say that, right now technology has some limits that stop it from being as good as it could be.
Dynamic Nature of Websites and Speed of Content Creation
Accessibility isn’t a one-time fix; it’s an ongoing commitment. The dynamic nature of websites and the constant creation of new content pose challenges in maintaining accessibility. Balancing automation with human intervention is important to ensuring equitable user experiences.
How Can Organizations Promote Global Accessibility?
Team Up with the Disability Community
To create truly accessible solutions, businesses should team up with people who have disabilities, along with disability advocates and accessibility experts. Making products and services while keeping the needs of people with disabilities in mind, and adding things like adjustable font sizes and screen readers, helps businesses meet their requirements effectively.
Revise Processes That Support Unconscious Bias
Are the steps you take in hiring unintentionally turning away candidates with disabilities or not letting them showcase their abilities?
In one company, they noticed that qualified individuals with autism weren’t getting hired due to issues with the interview process. So, they decided to scrap that process for candidates with autism and came up with a different evaluation approach. They partnered with a local autism support group for a new program that included exercises to test skills and teamwork, along with real-time training. This shift ensured that strong candidates weren’t overlooked just because the usual assessment methods didn’t highlight their strengths.
This mindset also holds true for processes related to developing and training people. Even small adjustments in regular training programs can have a significant impact.
Empower Employees to Address Disability Challenges
Putting in a bit more effort in this aspect can make a big difference in shaping a work environment where every employee can give their best. Companies should think about giving training to all employees, whether they have disabilities or not—especially those in management roles. The main aim of this training is to help people get a better understanding of the challenges their colleagues might be dealing with and to break down any stigma around being disabled. Everyone needs to be aware of the tools and accommodations available to people with disabilities, so the responsibility of finding solutions doesn’t fall only on the person with a disability.
Build a Team that Lifts Each Other Up
Providing training programs and chances to connect with colleagues is key to helping individuals with disabilities grow and thrive. Mentorship and coaching programs play a huge role too. If you’re a person with a disability in a higher-up role, think about being a mentor or advocate—both within your organization and outside of it.
Keep up with AI and Accessibility Trends
Businesses and pros in the industry need to stay in the loop with the newest happenings in AI and digital accessibility. This way, they can make the most of cutting-edge tech and keep making your products and services better and better.
Accessibility Trends in 2024
E-accessibility, or electronic accessibility, is all about making sure people with disabilities can easily use the internet. It’s like making the online world as user-friendly as the real one, which makes total sense, doesn’t it?
The good news is, that there are lots of tools coming up to help with this. Things like video captions, image descriptions, virtual keyboards, and translation tools for Sign Language are some of the handy features that make apps and websites more accessible.
AI is a big deal when it comes to making things more accessible. Thanks to AI, we’ve got cool tech like virtual assistants and chatbots that help out people with visual, hearing, or movement challenges when they’re using electronic devices.
And there’s more! AI is stepping up in translating Sign Languages automatically, breaking down communication barriers between deaf and hearing individuals.
In 2023, the big trend is creating stuff that everyone can use, no matter their abilities or characteristics. This idea, called inclusive design, is all about considering everyone’s needs right from the start. Especially in things like UX design, where they think about how to make things work for people with all kinds of disabilities, whether it’s something that lasts, is temporary, or just happens in certain situations.
A growing trend these days is the preference for brands that embrace diversity and inclusivity. Companies that take a stand on inclusiveness tend to stand out in the market and win over consumers.
Being an inclusive brand goes beyond just making physical spaces accessible. It involves representing diverse groups in advertising campaigns and implementing inclusion initiatives in their internal processes.
So, there you have it – a comprehensive guide to navigating the world of accessibility. From the importance of an inclusive society to international standards, challenges, and how organizations can champion accessibility, we’ve covered it all. Let’s keep making the online world a place where everyone, regardless of abilities, can thrive. It’s not just good for business; it’s the right thing to do. Cheers to a more accessible and inclusive future!