Website accessibility and digital accessibility defined
The terms website accessibility and digital accessibility have a lot of overlap and are often used interchangeably, but they can mean different things.
Website accessibility specifically refers to the principle that websites and associated content and technologies should be equally accessible to those with and without disabilities.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) states, “web accessibility means that websites, tools, and techniques are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.” They further add that “people can:
- perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web
- contribute to the Web.”
Digital accessibility includes web accessibility but also refers to the accessibility of anything digital such as video, audio, electronic documents, animations, kiosks, and mobile apps.
The importance of accessibility
You don't need to be told that everything is becoming digital. Stores are adding or replacing actual physical locations with online sites. Shopping, banking, paying bills, and other financial services can all be performed online. For many, communication has shifted toward texting and social media. Radio stations, television programs, and podcasts can be accessed on handheld digital devices.
So naturally it stands to reason that everybody should have the right to take advantage of all that digital has to offer. But, people utilize different devices and technologies to access the same digital information and the web in different ways. For people with disabilities, that might include using assistive technologies like screen readers, and in order for those technologies to work properly websites and digital tools need to be built to be accessible.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 25% of adults have a disability. Businesses would be wise to include people with disabilities in their markets, and a growing number of businesses are making accessibility a priority. Sometimes, though, companies stop at their websites in terms of applying accessibility best practices. The problem, of course, is that their customers don't stop at their websites, but make use of their full set of digital offerings. That's why everything people can reach needs to be accessible — websites, yes, but also the documents they link to, their social media presence, videos, podcasts, everything.
Accessibility is also the law. For more on the legal landscape and a recap of the state of digital accessibility in 2019, read Digital Accessibility Year in Review: 2019.
Raising awareness about accessibility
Organizations are making commitments to accessibility and recognizing its value. Developers are acquiring and using skills to create accessible apps and websites. Assistive technology is becoming more mainstream and in some cases cheaper. Even with the progress being made, raising awareness about accessibility can help accelerate it. You can help raise awareness by introducing someone to accessibility, explaining what accessibility is, and what are some of the guidelines and standards like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. Emphasize the importance of using respectful language when talking about accessibility and people with disabilities. People often wonder why accessibility is necessary, and whether it is worth the time and cost. They will benefit from learning that accessibility isn’t just a convenience but a civil right.
Once people have a better understanding of accessibility, how it affects and improves the lives of people with disabilities as well as everyone else, they may themselves become advocates for disability rights.