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Reach a Wide and Diverse Audience with Accessibility

In the current landscape, it’s clear that businesses should prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion or DEI.

Did you realize that people with disabilities fall into all 3 buckets of DEI? It’s important to be aware of people with disabilities as we build our businesses, whether we are thinking about our internal teams or external partners or customers, in order to build a fully accessible business. It’s likely that you know someone living with a disability, whether they have an obvious or invisible disability. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability. That’s 1 in 4 adults. As we age we are likely to acquire a condition that falls into the disability category. So if you have not been impacted by a disability yet, there’s a good chance that you may in the future.

How is Disability Related To Business?

Take a moment to think about how people discover your business and interact with you. It’s common in modern society to provide information about your business in an online or digital format. You may not do all your business transactions in a digital space, but it’s likely that at least a portion of your business is available to your customers on the internet.

Making your digital content accessible is key if you want to reach a wide audience and grow your business. When you leave accessibility out of your digital content, you are creating a “digital barrier” that prevents people, especially people with disabilities, from accessing your business. In the end, you are missing out on opportunities to reach people who will ultimately benefit from your services. Remember, 1 in 4 adults have a disability!

What Exactly is Digital Accessibility?

Great question! Let’s start with a visualization:

Think of your brand or your business as a building that you want everyone to enter in and experience. Instead of building stairs to the entrance, build a ramp instead. So that everyone can equally enter in and experience your brand or business.

Just like with physical spaces, digital content must be built. When you build digital content with accessibility in mind, you will reach more of your intended audience.

Digital Accessibility and the Law

I’d be remiss if I left out the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, from this conversation. Established in 1990, it is the law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. Many cases around digital accessibility and businesses have occurred over the years. A study done by found that 265,000 accessibility demand letters were sent to businesses in 2020. There is also new legislation on the table waiting to be signed that would clarify digital accessibility even more and would increase protections for people with disabilities. If federal law isn’t enough to persuade you to be accessible, I don’t know what is!

My thoughts on this: it’s better to stay ahead of what’s coming and build accessibility into your business now than to play catch up when either a demand letter hits your desk or, even worse, a lawsuit. It will save you precious time, money, and resources to have a proactive rather than reactive strategy. Also, consider your reputation! Would you rather be seen as an accessible and equitable business? Or a business that creates barriers for customers (or even worse) discriminates? Choose wisely!

Accessibility and Assistive Technology

There are a number of ways that people access and interact with digital content. For example, computers, tablets, and smartphones are among the most common technology devices to connect with digital content. But there are also many types of software and assistive technology that give people the access they need based on their preferences or abilities.

Here are some examples:

  • Screen readers read content out loud to users who are not able to see content on a device.
  • Dictation tools allow users to speak instead of type a response and navigate a device.
  • Magnification tools help users with low vision to increase the size of elements on the screen.

There have been amazing advancements in technology over the years that give everyone the opportunity to go online and connect with content. Connecting to and accessing the digital landscape is practically a basic necessity at this point in modern society! The pandemic certainly highlighted our reliance on accessing content online.

People with disabilities have benefited tremendously from technology advancements and assistive technology. They now have the tools to access digital content in ways that did not exist at the dawn of the digital age.

I think it’s also safe to say that many people without disabilities use assistive technology to connect with digital content and use devices. I know I’ve sent a few text messages using dictation when it was not convenient to type. And as I age, magnification tools seem to be ever more important!

Think about which tools you use to help you navigate your device and access digital content. I bet you can think of more than one!

Barrier Examples

Now I want you to read these barrier scenarios and think about which ones you have experienced:

  • Having a poor internet connection and the image on a website never loads and you’re dying to see it!
  • Viewing a video in a noisy environment and thinking, “I wish this video had captions.”
  • Looking at a combination of colors (i.e. the text color against the background color) that makes your eyes literally hurt to look at it?

It’s safe to say that we’ve all encountered at least one of these barriers in the digital landscape.

Do you know what they all have in common?

With all of these barriers, accessibility is the solution!

So what IS the actual problem here??

The digital landscape is being built without accessibility in mind (period the end). When content is built as “the stairs” instead of “the ramp” it creates an access barrier. This leads to lost opportunities to connect with everyone in your audience. In addition, it also sends the message of “I don’t care about you” to people who Want to connect with you. Not a great first impression for your brand, is it?

Accessible Solutions

Here’s how to provide accessible solutions to the problems mentioned in this blog post:

  • Provide descriptive alternative text or alt tags with your images.
  • Include accurate captions and, when possible, a transcript with all of your videos.
  • Test your color combinations (the text color against the background color) using a color contrast checking tool (Hint: do a Google search to find a free one. I recommend the Colour Contrast Analyser by TPGI).

When You Value Accessibility, Your Customers Will Notice

If you want to be a business owner that truly values diversity, equity, and inclusion, then build accessibility Into your business. Also, work with others who also value accessibility and can help you implement accessible solutions.

Make your digital content accessible to reach a wide audience. Show your customers that you care about them and want them to have a positive experience with your business. Be the ramp not the stairs!

Also posted on Network Build Grow, April 2023

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