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Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Thursday May 20, 2021 marks the tenth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Over a billion people worldwide are affected by disabilities, and on this day we consider their challenges related to the accessibility of the digital world that many simply take for granted. Most can simply open their laptop or pull out their smartphone and have limitless access to information, commerce, communication, entertainment and more. For those with disabilities, that access is not limitless. It’s filled with barriers.

Each year the WebAIM initiative at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University conducts an evaluation of homepages for the top 1 million websites. The WebAIM Million Report revealed this year that 97% of those pages had failures of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, with an average of 51.4 errors per page.

The WCAG is the de facto international standard that Sect 508 of the Disabilities Act and the American Disabilities Act both follow here in the US. The lack of ADA website compliance has become a huge liability to website owners in recent years, as  mobile and web-related ADA lawsuits climb year after year.

Walk a mile in their shoes.

In the past year, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in awareness and focus on improving diversity, equity and inclusion. And the need for digital inclusion - especially highlighted by the pandemic, has put further pressure on brands to ensure their mobile apps and website are WCAG compliant. 

Still, many people are not even aware of these barriers or even how people with disabilities access apps and websites with assistive technologies. The most common WCAG failures include low contrast text, missing image labels, missing input labels, empty links, missing document language and empty buttons. 

Many app and website owners may simply assume their digital properties are accessible. As is evidenced by the WebAIM Million report, that certainly is not the case. Unless a mobile app or website is specifically designed and built following accessibility best practices, they simply are not.

The action steps that organizations, institutions, municipalities and commercial brands should follow include

  • Establish digital accessibility as a funded priority.

  • Designate a person or team to build awareness, establish policy, and see that digital inclusion is seen through and maintained.

  • Conduct audits of mobile apps and websites by a reputable accessibility consultancy using best practices that include manual and assistive technology testing to identify barriers.

  • Train designers, developers and content authors.

  • Remediate digital properties to address barriers.

  • Establish a schedule for on-going auditing.

Shortcuts Do Not Work

What every website owner should avoid is taking what may seem like a shortcut. “Overlay” solutions have filled the demand for a quick and less expensive alternatives to properly addressing WCAG violations. Despite all the promises and claims, these companies do not deliver what they promise, and opposition to these companies is growing rapidly. As websites using these widgets are increasingly becoming targets for trolling law firms, and as the false claims are revealed in mainstream press such as this recent NBC News article, we hope website owners will learn why overlay solutions fail to protect or serve, before they are served. 

Take Action

On this day, take a moment to consider what it must be like to be a person with a disability facing such barriers in a digital world that others simply take for granted. Share this and other articles with colleagues. And challenge your organization or company to make digital accessibility a funded priority this year.



Photo credit: Kirill Balobanov on Unsplash