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How to Introduce People to Digital Accessibility: 7 Tips

Nov 27, 2018

You're an advocate for disability rights and digital accessibility and you want to introduce somebody to the reasons for and best practices of accessibility — but where do you even start? The concept is foreign to many people and, like with any new subject, they might need a good teacher to help them understand the importance of creating experiences that everyone, including people with disabilities, can use freely.

Seven tips for introducing people to digital accessibility for the first time

Define accessibility

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), "web accessibility means that websites, tools, and techniques are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can:

  • perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web
  • contribute to the Web."

This is a great, succinct definition that gets the point across in no uncertain terms and importantly identifies that accessibility requires the ability for everyone to add to the conversation, not just consume the content of others. For some, this idea is second nature; but for some, there is still the misconception that people with disabilities don't use computers — that can change through education and exposure to digital accessibility.

Identify web accessibility basics and standards

To get someone to really understand accessibility, you need to teach them the rules of the game. Even though someone who is new to the concept or isn't technical in nature might not benefit from you leading with how to meet success criterion 4.1.2: Name, Role, Value, you can still introduce to them that there are standards and recommendations in place, and some of the basic components of digital accessibility.

Here are a few resources to have handy:

Stress the importance of respectful language

Accessibility in the digital space has a technical aspect to it, certainly, but we're ultimately talking about people and their ability to participate fully. It's about respecting one another enough to not allow unnecessary technical barriers to hinder that ability to consume and contribute. Because we're talking about people, who are necessarily unique because they are human, the words we use are very important.

Here are a few tips for respectfully talking about accessibility and people with disabilities:

  • Avoid words like "normal" that inaccurately imply that people with disabilities are somehow abnormal. When we consider the prevalence of disability (the CDC recently reported that 25% of US adults, and 40% ages 65 or older, have a disability), language like that is not only offensive, but misleading.
  • Don't define a person by their disability; i.e., usually avoid phrases like "the disabled" or "disabled person." Even with good intentions, this type of language can be offensive. Somebody isn't disabled as a person or at being a person — they are a person with a disability.
  • Recognize that all generalizations are problematic. Even in the example immediately above, there are instances in which this isn't true. Some people see their disability as a core part of their identity and may prefer language that emphasizes it as such.
  • Avoid victimizing or pitying people with disabilities through word choices. It usually isn't appropriate to say someone "suffers" from a disability or is a "victim" of a disability. The tragedy and pity that people sometimes try to place on people with disabilities is often wildly different from the empowerment and independence they have.
  • When in doubt, ask. If you are respectful in your approach and in your language, and it's appropriate in the situation, many people will welcome the opportunity to share their preferences or to educate others on the realities that are often overshadowed by assumptions. But, don't decide for the person that they should disclose or discuss their disability — that's an individual and situational choice that needs to be respected, always.

Talk about the relationship between accessibility and civil rights

Common objections to digital accessibility sometimes question why it is necessary in the first place and how many people really benefit from the work put into making a website or app accessible. It's helpful for people to understand that access to information isn't a nice-to-have, but a civil right. As the rise in accessibility lawsuits shows, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is widely considered to apply to websites. As such, it's often helpful to grasp the concept of digital accessibility more fully when it's explained that the burden to create accessible experiences falls on the site owners, just as it does in the physical world.

Encourage hands-on learning

In order for accessibility to transform from conceptual or hypothetical to real with huge impacts on people's lives, people might need to see it in action. You can encourage people to get involved in groups or conferences that include people with disabilities to help bring the concept to life. Some people genuinely don't have in-person experience with blindness, for example, so they're left with little more than their own assumptions until they have the chance to challenge themselves and grow. Of course, there are tons of digital resources to help, too — you might encourage they follow accessibility blogs, watch videos that demonstrate assistive technology, or that they even try to experiment with testing for or creating accessible experiences themselves.

Be patient

This is a new topic entirely for many people. It's important that we exercise patience when showing someone the ins and outs. Expect questions, confusion, and hiccups as you introduce somebody to this industry and its concepts.

Tie accessibility back to other benefits

It's always interesting for people to learn that accessibility has so many positive benefits beyond making the web usable for people with disabilities, like cleaner code and improved SEO.

Here are just some of the many resources that touch on other benefits of digital accessibility:

Here to help you achieve accessibility

Talk to us to learn how we can help with all aspects of your digital accessibility efforts, or get started with a free and confidential website accessibility scan. We look forward to helping you achieve, maintain, and prove digital compliance.

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