Try, at least for a moment, imagine yourself as a blind and visually impaired person. Visit your favorite web portal and close your eyes. You didn’t get much out of it, right? Blind and visually impaired people use screen readers. To be able to use technology to find what they want, web pages need to be designed and structured properly. Otherwise, the web page is completely confusing and unusable to that person.
Pandemic has changed our lives and interactions. Friends, work, school, other learning, almost all forms of entertainment, and finding information has shifted into the digital space. While many adapted to the new situation fairly quickly, people with disabilities have been denied a large part of said digital space. Their everyday life interactions and responsibilities got even more complicated.
Expert classification calls blind and low vision, deaf, with motoric and cognitive challenges people with disabilities. In this article, we’ll call them people with different abilities. We talk about 1/5 of the population that needs some kind of change of digital content.
Tim Berners Lee, the founder of the Internet, conceived it as a universal space without barriers, accessible to everyone.
With that in mind, he started the W3C consortium in 1997. The organization with the task to standardize web technologies. WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) is one of its key segments. The leading thought of this initiative is to grow awareness about good practices and adjustments of the web pages for people with different abilities.
Awareness About Importance of Digital Accessibility Starts With Developers
Web developers are the ones that have the most influence on whether a certain digital product or a web page will be more or less accessible. The importance of proper HTML semantics and compatibility with assistive tech, and considering different end-users is immense. Without it, a lot of people will have unpleasant or even dreadful experiences.
“For the blind [people], browsing and using web content can be extremely demanding. It requires a deep understanding of the website technology and markup that screen readers use to represent them. In addition to that many keys or moves on the screen of smartphones as well. In that sense, proper implementation of accessibility standards is crucial to access the content.
If done right blind people can use web pages simpler and faster. If these elements are not implemented or its use is done poorly, a user may find himself quite lost in the content. Or it may take quite some time to be able to do or find anything.
Today this isn’t only about various general content but it is a question of education, everyday communication with friends. Not to mention different services like online banking or shopping. Even though the situation is somewhat better lately, we’re a long way from perfect. It will take a lot to educate and create awareness in the public around these challenges.” says Tomislav Juzbasic, an independent assistive technologies expert.
On WAI official web pages there is a huge amount of information, strategies, and resources on how to do digital accessibility the right way.
They consider website or application structure, design, text, images, audio or video content, etc. The WCAG 2.1 standard is the current one to follow.
Digital Accessibility Is Not Done For Few But For Many
In May 2012 in a simple and short blog post web developer from the US, Joe Devon called for understanding how important it is for his colleagues to follow these guidelines and HTML5 semantics. He also suggests a Global Accessibility Awareness Day. It is now held each third Thursday in May. In a sense, we can say that May is an accessibility month.
In short, digital accessibility represents a practice where web pages, mobile apps, or digital documents are designed and created in a way that all potential users can use them and understand the content. They may have audio, visual, cognitive impairment that can be temporary or permanent. It shouldn’t matter.
“Universal design and correctly implemented digital accessibility benefit everyone. All users of a website or a software application. We pull a wheeled suitcase up to a ramp next to a building entrance instead of carrying it right? It is easier. In the same way, sometimes we need a larger font, a different combination of background color, and text in a mobile app or highlighted links.
It is quite important to make clear that making software digitally accessible doesn’t mean it benefits only a small part of users. We should have in mind the accessibility of design, functionality, and content from the very beginning. It should be the foundation of every technology product.” explains Dr.Sc. Zeljka Car, professor at the Faculty of Electronics and Computing, and a pioneer in the communication of digital accessibility in Croatia.
As someone who creates a part of the digital space, we should ask ourselves how we can make it understandable. Whether we’re conceiving content or writing code. Not to some but to quite a significant population and potential users. Besides, accessibility has an immense impact on SEO optimization, user experience, and loyalty.
Show Respect With Accessible Web
Digital accessibility isn’t only a question of common decency. It is a basic human right. In the US, Canada, and the EU already strong legal compliance is constantly expanding. Legislators are making efforts to give digital accessibility high relevance as it should have.
The case of Guillermo Robles, a blind man from California, who won a lawsuit against Domino’s is well known. He wasn’t able to order a pizza on their web page using a screen reader.
On top of the EU directive 2016/2102, many countries are implementing a legal basis for digital accessibility. These laws have the goal of ensuring each person has equal access to information and take part in society in a digital space. To which their different abilities shouldn’t be a barrier.
Accessibility of Education Solutions and Access to Information
Access to knowledge and information is a basic human right. It contributes to the development of individuals and society as a whole. We are among the pioneers that address education technology testing in Croatia. With our partners, we test digital education content and applications. Experts and testers have a goal to remove the barriers and improve the user experience. To make sure they would be accessible to different groups of users. The added output will be protocols and standardized tests, accumulated knowledge, and experience in the digital accessibility space.
“In the past year, we wouldn’t be able to achieve anything, related to our work or education, without digital platforms and content. So far only a few have considered how a person with different abilities would use them. That puts them in quite a pickle. The goal of [digital accessibility] testing is to establish a best practice so everyone in society would have equal opportunity for knowledge and information. A foundation for educational attainment for all.” mentions Maja Peretic, a speech therapist and project manager.
Digital Accessibility As a Measure of Society Maturity
Extensive consideration of digital accessibility is a must for every creator of web pages and applications or any digital content. For now, regulations focus on the public sector but won’t be long before it is a must for private companies as well.
Advanced and aware society shouldn’t ignore the needs of those who have different abilities. Its task is to do whatever it takes to enable equality in the digital world. Moreover, a society shows the strength and development level in the way they treat deprivileged groups.
For Web Accessible To Everyone!