What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility addresses the ability of people with visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities to access electronic resources such as the internet, software, mobile devices, e-readers, etc. It also includes people with changing abilities due to aging and temporary conditions due to accidents or illness.

Basically, digital accessibility is technology put into place to allow a wide range of users to easily navigate the digital space.

When building digital channels without including basic accessibility requirements (due to lack of awareness or outdated/inferior software and hardware), barriers are inadvertently created that exclude people from using those channels.

When access to the digital world is available to all, it can remove barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world.

When it was created in 1990, the internet as we know it did not exist and there is now a great need for updated laws concerning accessibility in the digital realm. The American Disability Act (ADA) requires that “places of public accommodation” be accessible to the disabled. Most businesses operating some form of physical facility open to the public understand their obligations to make those physical facilities accessible. Understanding what is required for a digital space can be confusing.

So, what does it mean to have an accessible website or application? At the most basic level, an accessible website or application must have the following features and possibly more depending on the requirements of the business and consumer it serves:

  • Provides text and/or audio alternatives for any non-text content
  • Includes content that can be presented in different ways without losing information, context or structure
  • Is easy to see and hear
  • Permits all functionality from a keyboard if needed (as opposed to a cursor)
  • Permits sufficient time to read and use content
  • Is not designed in a way that is known to cause seizures
  • Includes ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are
  • Operates and appears in predictable ways
  • Is compatible with current and future user agents, including assistive web technologies.

Detailed requirements for widely adopted international standards are produced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C published a guideline called Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG). Learn more about WCAG.