The Importance of Digital Accessibility

Posted by Rob Mineault on

May 16th marks Global Accessibility Awareness Day and this year marks its 8th anniversary. It is a little hard to believe that it took until the year 2011 for this crucial issue to get its own day, but the important thing is that people are becoming more and more aware of its significance with every passing year.

The goal of GAAD is, of course, to increase the visibility of the concept of Digital Accessibility and its importance, and to get the developers and content creators talking about the big picture of what it means to be accessible in the Digital Age. It should be noted that as we celebrate its 8th year of spreading the word of inclusive web policies, that it all began with a simple blog post. As a very wise man once said, from small things, great things come. Advocates and people passionate about improving this blue green marble we’re currently residing on should take note: sometimes all it takes is a cause and an internet connection to make a difference.

So what do we mean when we talk about digital accessibility? Well, simply put, accessibility “refers to designing devices, products, and environments such that individuals with disabilities or sensory impairments can successfully use the device or product”. A simple concept and seemingly no-brainer when distilled into its purest form, yet has been a challenge to implement both in the real world as well as its digital counterpart.

Given that the Internet has ubiquitous for almost 30 years, it is surprising that Web Accessibility is still something that comes up far too often. Every year things get better, more people become involved in the Global Accessibility conversation, and the benefits of Accessible Digital spaces become more apparent to mainstream developers and businesses. And of course, the existence of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (linked) give developers the building blocks they need to create these inclusive spaces.

It’s very important to note when talking about digital accessibility that building content that is accessible benefits everyone. For example, many of the elements that make a website easier to access benefit end users of all types as well as contributing to search engine optimization for the business itself. These elements and accessibility features can include (but not limited to) high contrast colors, image alt-text, responsive layouts that can be viewed easily on various different devices, logically structured text layout that includes titles and headings, captioning, and even audio descriptions. Digital accessibility makes sense to be baked in from the start and should no longer be treated as a retrofit for existing content.

Inclusivity has become more and more of an important discourse over the years, which has also helped build momentum for the Digital Accessibility movement. More and more businesses realize that have accessible content is not only the right thing to do in terms of building a world we can all live in, but it also makes good business sense. People with disabilities are consumers just as much as anyone else, and any business that taps into the market and separates themselves from the competition by having an accessible website, product or service is going to find themselves with a distinct advantage. Look no farther than the current arms race between Apple, Microsoft and Google to provide accessibility options in their products and services as an example of this. Apple was the leader in built-in accessibility features for many years, but lately Google and Microsoft have taken that ball and continued to run down the field, vastly improving their own offerings as well as evolving new and unique solutions for users looking to tap into the latest technologies.

With digital services becoming more and more of an integral part of the way in which we organize and live our lives, the necessity of digital accessibility becomes apparent. After all, the UN has declared that not only is the Internet a human right, but that accessibility to information and services online is also paramount. As more people use the internet as their lifeline to information, services and even entertainment grows, we need to ensure that the developers and content creators are aware of the need to bake in accessibility features from the start.

Which brings us back around to Global Accessibility Awareness Day and why it’s such an important day to celebrate and spread the word about. The more noise we can make about accessibility in the digital world the more likely that developers will hear and consider it at the design and implementation level. That’ll mean more apps that are immediately accessible rather than needing months of additional development in order to construct an accessibility solution as an add-on or retrofit.

So on May 16th I’d challenge you to make a point of looking around your own world and taking note of something that can be improved accessibility-wise and post about it on your own social media channel using the hashtag #GAAD. We need to educate and spread awareness of the importance of accessibility and if you don’t think that your tweet, post, or discussion really matters in the grand scheme of things, just remember: from small things, great things come.

Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

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