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DEI begins with Digital Accessibility for People with Disabilities

David Gibson

Amongst so many challenges in this country, diversity, equity and inclusion rang so very loud in 2020. Now in the optimism of 2021 as we welcome a pandemic vaccine, and a new administration, we reflect and consider what actions we can take.

My challenge to businesses committing to DEI is to focus on our most vulnerable minority groups: people with disabilities. These people are as ethnically diverse as any, yet receive the least attention. As Gandhi said “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

While the American Disabilities Act provides protections to enable access to “places of public accommodation”, access to digital places such as websites and mobile apps is chronically ignored. This inequality is especially painful during a pandemic.

The annual study by Utah State’s Center for Persons with Disabilities aka WebAIM analyzed the top million homepages. Using automated testing methods, they found that 98.1% of pages have accessibility barriers. This was actually up from 97.8% in 2019.

While this may seem astonishing, it’s not. Unless a website or mobile app is specifically designed for accessibility, it simply isn’t. This is not the fault of website designers, if accessibility and specific WCAG 2.1 A, AA conformity was not explicitly required. 

Claiming a lack of awareness runs hollow today. ADA requirements for websites and apps have been a spotlight for many years now. This is simply a failure of brands who have chosen not to invest the time and resources needed. In a cold cost-benefit analysis, the cost of compliance outweighs the benefits. However, what isn’t factored is the cost to brands who fail to show their commitment to DEI and who get called out for ignoring the needs of the disabled. Nor are the benefits of improved user experiences, search engine position, and positive brand value.

So my call to brands that want to really demonstrate their commitment to DEI is to commit also to serving diverse people with disabilities. Make this part of your DEI mission. Commit to following the law and ensuring universal inclusive access to your digital properties.  Do it now in 2021, because this is inevitable. You can either be on the right side of this, or the wrong and pay the legal price and the smear on your brand.

David Gibson