Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on May 18th is a key date for the tech industry, promoting the awareness of digital access and inclusion. It may be often missed that what we are presented with digitally on our smartphones, computers and other devices may not be accessible to those with disabilities. It is important we highlight this date to explore:
The importance of digital accessibility.
What challenges those with disabilities may face.
What solutions can be used to overcome difficulties.
Accessibility in tech describes how digital services can be reached by all people. The Global Accessibility Awareness Day website states that more than one billion people have disabilities and impairments which translates to around 1 in 7 of the world’s population. This doesn’t account for people who are also undiagnosed, likely to be a significant number.
As GAAD describes in their meaning of digital accessibility, “someone with a disability must be able to experience web-based services, content and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities”.
Furthermore, there is an on-going argument that digital access is a human right; a view that all must have access to the internet to ‘exercise and enjoy their rights to freedom of express and opinion’. Digital access is a means of communication, where we can be connected to others and consume information online. This argument has been raised over the past 20 years and a growth of statistics shows an increase in agreement that access to the internet is a fundamental right. Even 10-13 years ago, several surveys have backed this up:
The BBC World Service poll in 2010 showed that 78% of internet users felt the internet brought them more freedom
The Internet Society’s Global Internet User Survey in 2012 results saw that 83% of people said that access to the internet is a basic human right.
Unfortunately, despite the huge advancements in technology since then, there are still failures in digital accessibility that are often being overlooked. In 2020, WEBAIM conducted an analysis of one-million home pages, and the outcome saw that 98.1% of home pages had at least one failure to web accessibility guidelines. This demonstrates that there is a huge way to go and the drive towards digital accessibility is more important than we may initially think.
GAAD reports on four common disabilities and impairments that can provide challenges in digital accessibility.
Visual – Those who are blind or visually impaired can have difficulties in reading, typing, or using a mouse to navigate digital services and products.
Hearing – Those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can face challenges with audio-based digital content and may rely on visual cues to navigate digital services and products.
Motor – Motor impairments can cause challenges in navigating devices physically, such as using keyboards, a mouse, touchpad or typing on a phone.
Cognitive – Those with learning difficulties may find challenges in the way that digital services and content are structured, presented or how language is used.
Alongside disabilities, it is worth highlighting that language barriers are also a challenge that people may face if they are navigating a website that isn’t their first language.
Achieving Digital Accessibility
There are multiple ways in how digital accessibility can be achieved.
Firstly, all web content and services as a minimum are recommended to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).These guidelines are a set of recommendations to make digital content more accessible for all users, primarily those with disabilities or impairments. There has been regular development of these guidelines, with the latest version being released in 2018 and the guidelines being introduced as a quality standard. There are now 14 guidelines that remove or reduce barriers across motor, cognitive, hearing, and visual disabilities or impairments.
Alongside these guidelines, there are priority levels that guide developers on what they should consider in the creation of web pages or applications, based on the impact made on accessibility.
Developers have an important role in making sure that the development of web pages, applications or software is accessible to all. The creation of GAAD comes from a blog post written by web developer Joe Devon, who called for a specific day to be created to encourage web developers to test their web pages on accessibility, but also spread awareness of digital inclusivity.
UI and UX Designers also have a role to play. As we have developed digital usage, there has been more significance on exploring how every user can have a positive digital experience.
UI, User Interface, explores the visual interactions when using a website or application such as the screen, colours, buttons and icons as well as navigation efficiency.
UX, User Experience, explores the emotional interaction that users have when they use webpages or applications and the quality of the interaction.
Together UX, UI and web developers can directly impact digital accessibility for users and provide solutions to those who are facing disability issues.
With the increase of digital presence, there has also been an increase of assistive technologies to overcome impairment and disability challenges. These assistive technologies have also allowed many to feel more independent and control limitations in digital access. Some examples are:
Visual – Assistive technologies can be a range of text magnifiers, speech detection (including speech-to-text), audio descriptions, colour adjustment settings, braille displays or keyboards to interact with digital content.
Hearing – Assistive technologies can include captions/subtitles for videos and audio detection software and use of hearing loops.
Motor – Adaptive keyboards or mouse, speech detection and eye control devices.
Cognitive – Speech recognition (speech-to-text technology), word prediction software and audio buttons for reading.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day is significant in highlighting the journey we have in improving digital accessibility and removing the barriers for people with disabilities or impairments. As we continue to increase our presence in the digital world, we must account for means of inclusivity.
Gravitas is committed to the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion in all areas, across both our internal community and external networks.
If you want to be a part of the Gravitas community, visit our careers page.