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Digital Accessibility Definition, Regulations, and Features

October 7, 2020
|
Scott

Why should a company embrace digital accessibility?

Well, it’s the law, for starters.

But beyond that very convincing reason, there is another compelling one: it helps your business attract and keep all types of customers. How does something like digital accessibility, something seemingly relevant to only a subsection of society, benefit everyone?

Glad you asked. Here’s what digital accessibility is and why you need it.

What Is Digital Accessibility?

Digital accessibility is the degree to which a website, mobile app, or digital document can be easily navigated and comprehended by users with auditory, visual, motor, or cognitive disabilities. Those users may or may not use assistive technology.

Assistive technology allows people with disabilities to smoothly interact with websites and digital content. A few examples of assistive technology include:

  • Alternative output devices. Users with low vision or blindness may need the structure and text of content read out loud for them with a screen reader. Voiceover for Mac computers and JAWS for Windows are two popular screen readers. Likewise, users with hearing impairments may need captioning or transcription implements to read audio content.
  • Alternative input devices like speech input software, head pointers, or eye tracking for those with limited mobility. A website or document that requires input should not exclude those with the inability to type or use a mouse.

Examples of digital accessibility for a user with a disability not using assistive devices include:

  • Ensuring a high contrast ratio between text and background color for users with low vision
  • Avoiding unnecessarily technical language for users with cognitive disabilities
  • Structuring content simply and logically to allow for keyboard navigation

Poor digital accessibility makes assistive technology less effective and generally impedes a user’s ability to access digital content at the same level of able-bodied users.

Why Is Digital Accessibility Important?

Digital accessibility is important for four reasons:

Inclusivity

Over 60 million Americans live with a disability. Giving them the same access as everyone else is the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do: they have an estimated cumulative $645 billion in disposable annual income. Ignore a market segment of that size at your own risk.

Better User Experience (For Everyone)

Many digital accessibility best practices make sense for everyone. Provide simpler language. Provide logical navigation. Provide clear and hierarchical content structure. Those are benefits for anyone, regardless of ability level. By working toward digital accessibility, the user experience improves for everyone.

SEO Benefits

Digital accessibility drives search engine visibility. If your business wants better search engine results, work toward digital accessibility. Many of the same implementations around structure and labeling that help assistive technology understand your content also help search engines understand your content.

It’s the Law

And, finally, perhaps most convincingly, digital accessibility is the law. ADA website law is a growing legal field with more and more frequent legal actions affecting a broad range of industries.

Digital Accessibility Regulations

In the United States, digital accessibility regulations fall under two primary laws: the ADA and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The ADA

The ADA was passed in 1990 and doesn’t actually include anything specific about websites or digital content. But the language of the law is broad enough to have since been interpreted to include digital accessibility.

In 2017 ADA Title III lawsuits against Blick Art Supplies and Winn-Dixie grocery stores set firm precedents that websites are “places of public accommodation.” Therefore, the language of the ADA that guarantees accessibility to places of public accommodation applies to websites and digital content.

Section 508

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires all federal agencies give people with disabilities access to electronic and information technology that’s comparable to the access others have. The law covers all software and hardware, including websites, documents, apps, and physical electronics.

The most common application of Section 508 is documents. Interacting with federal agencies requires downloading and submitting documents often, PDF documents especially. Most 508 remediation services are 508 document remediation. They focus on the digital accessibility of documents, and PDF accessibility most often.

ADA: Which Features Support Digital Accessibility?

While Section 508 provides some technical guidance to achieving a legal level of digital accessibility, the ADA doesn’t. So, when it comes to the ADA, which features support digital accessibility?

Luckily, a third party organization provides the answer. The W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, publishes and maintains an expansive list of digital accessibility guidelines. They’re known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. There are numerous versions of the WCAG and different levels of digital accessibility based on the number of guidelines implemented.

The majority of current ADA legal action references the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines. And the majority of web accessibility statements claim WCAG 2.1 adherence. To understand which features support digital accessibility, look at the primary features that support digital accessibility in the WCAG 2.1 AA. Those features are broken down into four organizing categories:

Perceivable

  • Provide alternative text for any non-text content. Then it can be changed into text that meets other peoples’ needs, like simpler language, braille, symbols, or large print.
  • Provide an alternative way to interact with time-based media—media that has a duration.
  • Make sure content can be presented in different ways, so assistive technology can access the content and repackage it in accessible ways.
  • Make it easy for users to see and hear the separation between foreground and background.

Operable

  • All functionality should be available via keyboard.
  • Users should be given ample time to consume content.
  • Avoid presenting content that is known to trigger seizures.
  • Provide assistance to any user that needs help navigating, searching, or determining where they are.

Understandable

  • Make all text content readable and understandable, avoiding unnecessary technical language.
  • Make web pages and interactive documents appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • Give users the ability to avoid and correct mistakes.

Robust

  • Maximize current and future compatibility, including the usage of existing and future assistive technologies—to the extent possible.

To achieve digital accessibility, organizations must learn two things. First, how to check if a website is ADA compliant (auditing). Then how to make a website ADA compliant (remediation).

Digital Accessibility Solutions

More often than not, partnering with a digital accessibility company for audit and remediation is the best bet. Let’s look into some of the best digital accessibility companies, along with what to look for in a digital accessibility consultant. These aren’t just self-serve website accessibility checkers, which have their place, of course. The following offer full-service digital accessibility solutions.

7 Digital Accessibility Companies to Know

Finding a digital accessibility company can be hard. There are lots. Here are the ones we like.

  • UseableNet helps companies achieve digital accessibility through implementation of WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 guidelines.
  • Level Access offers a free risk assessment and a full suite of digital accessibility solutions.
  • Deque has helped thousands of enormous companies achieve digital accessibility and is rightly considered an industry leader in both auditing and remediation services.
  • Essential Accessibility is one of the leading Accessibility-as-a-Service platforms, offering ADA, WCAG, 508, and AODA compliance.
  • EqualWeb currently helps over 1 million web pages work toward legally-compliant digital accessibility.
  • AudioEye works with virtually all major sitebuilding platforms and offers an integrated and certified pathway to digital accessibility and ADA web compliance.
  • SproutQR is one of the only companies out there with a WCAG 2.1 AA- and ADA-compliant digital menu for bars and restaurants.

Finding a Digital Accessibility Consultant

If your preference is to find an individual digital accessibility consultant, look for the following:

  • An understanding of your digital content’s audience. A digital accessibility consultant that can put on a marketing hat is able to recommend and implement the most impactful changes immediately.
  • A thorough knowledge of any applicable legal guidelines around digital accessibility, including the ADA, Section 508, the CVAA, and more. While ADA compliance is great, there may be other laws that require more. A good digital accessibility consultant will understand which laws cover your content or hardware and work toward compliance with all of them.
  • A demonstrated history of successful digital accessibility implementation. Bonus points if their work led to the resolution of legal action.

Using an ADA-Compliant QR Code Menu

ADA lawsuits disproportionately target retail and hospitality businesses. Working toward digital accessibility is a long and costly process. But for hospitality businesses that use menus, there’s a silver lining.

Using an ADA-compliant digital menu removes mountains of risk from bars, restaurants, hotels, and spas. Because menus are one of the most substantial customer touchpoints out there. It’s the only industry with the ability to remediate one document or page and make such a big impact.

When a bar or restaurant flips the switch from a single use paper menu or PDF menu to a QR code-based digitally accessible menu, they solve many problems. From the legal risk of inaccessible digital content to the hygiene risk of physical menus. They also increase their audience, enhance user experience for everyone, and boost their SEO power.

SproutQR helps businesses across the country do just that. Book a demo and we’ll show you how easy it is.