Digital Accessibility addresses the ability of people with visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities to access electronic resources such as the Internet, software, mobile devices, e-readers, etc. It also includes people with changing abilities due to aging or illness. Digital accessibility is technology put into place to allow a wide range of users to easily navigate the digital space.
The worldwide web has been designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, culture, location, or physical or mental ability. While an ideal, it has not always succeeded. At its best, the Web is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive abilities. When basic standards of accessibility have not been met, due to outdated or inferior software and hardware, barriers are created that exclude people from using the digital space.
When access to the digital world is available to all, a wonderful result is that the impact of disability on a person is radically changed. The Web removes barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is expected to update its guidelines concerning website accessibility sometime in 2018. When it was created in 1990, the internet as we know it did not exist and there is now a great need for updated laws concerning accessibility in the digital realm. The ADA requires that “places of public accommodation” be accessible to the disabled. Most businesses operating some form of physical facility open to the public understand their obligations to make those physical facilities accessible. Understanding what is required for a digital space can be confusing.
So, what does it mean to have an accessible website or app? At the most basic level, an accessible website or app must have the following features and more depending on the requirements of the business and consumer it serves:
Provides text and/or audio alternatives for any non-text content
Includes content that can be presented in different ways without losing information, context or structure
Is easy to see and hear
Permits all functionality from a keyboard if needed (as opposed to a cursor)
Permits sufficient time to read and use content
Is not designed in a way that is known to cause seizures
Includes ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are
Operates and appears in predictable ways
Is compatible with current and future user agents, including assistive web technologies.