Digital accessibility entails making digital platforms and tools accessible to those with certain disabilities who might otherwise be unable to use them.
The concept of digital accessibility came about soon after the introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under the U.S. Congress in 1990. This act made it necessary for all facilities to make themselves accessible to people with various disabilities, including individuals with physical, sensory, or psychological impairments.
In addition to physical spaces, digital counterparts must be consistently accessible to people with limitations or disabilities by using specific types of tools. This necessity became official with the introduction of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in 1999. This initiative put guidelines in place for webmasters to follow when designing and developing their websites, enabling businesses to maintain compliance with both the WCAG and, by extension, ADA.
With the rise of WCAG, websites and other digital solutions must do what they can to accommodate users with various disabilities and limitations.
There are numerous reasons why digital platforms must be accessible to everyone who uses them.
For example, brands using digital tools face steep costs and fines if they fail to comply with the requirements of the ADA and WCAG. Businesses need to ensure their websites offer the same experience for all users who access them. Some specific expenses for the failure to do so could include fines for ADA violations, web redesign costs, and legal expenses.
Another reason to make a website digitally accessible is to help other users without disabilities. Measures to make a website more accessible for everyone can increase the ease of use and navigation for all users, which can ensure more users have an easier time exploring your website.
Some of the specific people that digital accessibility can benefit include the following demographics:
The main goal of digital accessibility and the principles behind it is to make content entirely accessible to the highest number of users possible. Everyone from disabled individuals to the average user should be able to access a website and its content along with other digital tools.
The right solution will ensure that everyone can navigate and control the solutions they want and need.
There are four main principles of digital accessibility that you must keep in mind under the WCAG. They form the acronym POUR, which goes as follows:
Everyone who accesses a website or another digital platform should be able to clearly see every feature they're able to access and use. This includes content and user interfaces that don't include any unnecessarily hidden or otherwise inaccessible features. Whether a person is limited in their mobility or unable to access a platform through a certain sense, the platform should offer workarounds for all users.
For instance, someone who is unable to hear the audio in video clips on a website should have access to closed captions or subtitles.
A digital platform should also enable users to navigate and control various features using atypical controls based on the individual's needs. For example, someone with limited mobility in his or her arms should be able to navigate through a website through voice commands and other means.
Users should be able to easily understand the websites they're on and what each feature does. While websites can try to be somewhat original in their designs, they shouldn't compromise functionality and recognizability in the process. Every user should be able to see what's on each page and know what each button and link does, and they should also be able to understand the content on each page.
Websites and other content should be versatile and run well on nearly any type of device and browser. Whether a user is visiting a website on a computer or in a browser on an app, the experience should be seamless and navigable.
Any kind of digital solution that adheres to these principles will be accessible and provide all users with an optimal experience. They'll also likely meet the requirements of the WCAG and ADA, preventing any potential issues that might otherwise arise and lead to otherwise avoidable expenses.
There are many types of features that you can include on your website or application that can make it accessible to everyone. Some examples of good accessibility features include:
People should be able to easily see all text and images with good color contrast across all text, images, links, and icons. For instance, if you have a light background, you should have darker text that makes it easy to discern between the two.
Good color contrast is helpful for individuals who are visually impaired along with those who are colorblind or have other types of visual deficiencies. Elderly users may also struggle to see clearly, in which case good contrast can make all the difference in their experience.
For users who are hard of hearing, it's important to have closed captions on videos that describe the visuals and audio to them in text form. Unlike subtitles, closed captions are specifically intended for people who are unable to hear the audio in a video and include details that ordinary subtitles lack. For example, if a certain sound or music plays in the background, closed captions will mention what that sound or music is to provide context for viewers.
Even if a user isn't disabled, closed captions can be helpful to include if the user is in a location where it's hard to hear the audio in your videos.
To maintain visibility, you must incorporate buttons, links, and controls that users can easily see and locate. Every user should have no trouble determining what each item does and navigating your website or app.
In addition to making your buttons, controls, and links large enough to see, ensure they're not too close together to the point where people accidentally click on the wrong thing. They should also be able to understand what each button and link does based on the images or text accompanying them.
Another feature you may want to include is a variety of tips for form fields that make it easier for users to complete contact forms and other types of forms. You may want to clearly indicate what users should enter into each form field, including their names, addresses, and phone numbers, for example. You should also ensure it's easy for users to see the text that they're entering into these fields so they can confirm their accuracy.
Closed captions can be helpful, but for particularly long videos with long discussions or monologues, you may want to include a complete transcript. This would enable users to read the content that's in videos at their own pace, which can be particularly helpful for those who read at a slower pace and may struggle to absorb the video content.
You may be tempted in some cases to use a fancy font that helps you stand out, but it shouldn't sacrifice readability. Use a default font that's easy to read and understand, and give users the option to change fonts or text size for even more accessibility.
Some additional features you might want to include to facilitate digital accessibility include the following:
In addition to videos, people should be able to understand the images on your website even if they can't see them. Using alternative text, or alt text, assistive software such as screen readers can read aloud the content of an image. As an example, an image might depict a boy holding a red balloon in a park, in which case alt text might read "young boy holding a red balloon in the park in sunlight." You can also use alt text to describe the contents of everything from infographics and schematics to menu buttons and flowcharts.
Not only can alt text increase accessibility, but it can also help with search engine optimization (SEO). Alt text indicates to Google what an image is about and can supplement other optimization efforts.
You should also include helpful and sequential heading structures for each page. Page headings are ideal for good design, but they can also make content easier to understand by breaking it up into different digestible sections. Make sure all headings have the structure they need to appear properly, with H1s, H2s, H3s, and so on.
Keep in mind that many users may need to navigate a website using a keyboard in lieu of a mouse or other controls. This makes it necessary to have a website that's entire keyboard accessible. Using a keyboard, users should be able to navigate the entire website, enter form fields, and click on buttons and links.
Don't overly complicate your content by using complex language. Keep your content easy to understand across all audiences. People should be able to easily read and comprehend all of your content. If you use plain language that connects with as many users as possible, this will help you engage every user.
Plain language is ideal for people with learning disabilities and disorders such as dyslexia who may not be able to understand certain terms or sentences. Some may also have cognitive limitations that prevent them from understanding more complex sentences and words.
People should encounter a cohesive experience when navigating your website. If they're on one page and go to another only to find that various elements are different and unfamiliar, it can make for a confusing and frustrating experience. Maintain uniformity across your entire platform to ensure that everyone enjoys the ideal user experience with every interaction. Also, fix any potential issues and errors that hurt the user experience in any way.
When working to promote digital accessibility and ensuring that your digital platform is in consistent compliance with the ADA and WCAG, there are specific ways you can go about doing so.
You can start by looking at your existing platform and thinking of how people might experience it with certain limitations or disabilities. What features are missing from your platform that could benefit these individuals to increase accessibility and overall ease of use? You can create a checklist of items that your website currently lacks and that you could gradually add, from more contrasting colors to image alt text and closed captions for videos.
You can also work toward increasing accessibility in your workplace by implementing helpful features in your organization's physical and digital spaces. Subsequently, your workplace will be more accommodating of employees with disabilities, which can also lead to more diverse workforces that boost your brand's ability to succeed along with its reputation.
With the help of the right measures and solutions, you can more successfully ensure your digital platforms and business as a whole are consistently accessible.
Storyly prioritizes digital accessibility to help digital brands publish content that can be enjoyed by every internet user. Learn more about how Storyly Stories offer an accessible experience, and for more information about digital accessibility in general, check out our blog post on the history of digital accessibility.