What is Digital Accessibility, anyway?

by Adam Thiel, CPACC – Digital Accessibility Coordinator at Oklahoma ABLE Tech

It would seem introductions are in order

Most people these days are at least passingly familiar with some form of assistive technology (AT) that helps people with disabilities navigate or interact with the physical world around them. Automatic doors at your favorite grocery store, your neighbor’s prosthetic leg, or the ramp into your building, for example. But what about the many digital spaces we all interact with these days? There aren’t exactly ramps for the internet, right? Or are there?

Enter Digital Accessibility.

Be an a11y

Digital Accessibility, often abbreviated in accessibility circles as a11y (get it?), helps bridge the gap between people’s physical AT devices and digital environments like the internet, mobile apps, or digital documents. Unless your digital content is designed correctly, AT can’t interact with it properly, or often, at all.

Imagine if 90% of the webpages you went to were completely broken, while the remaining 10% only worked sometimes. Suddenly, trying to use the internet would be an annoying burden instead of being helpful and exciting, right? This is the reality that people with disabilities deal with every day. So, let’s help ‘em out.

Aw, Mom! Do I have to?

The long and the short of it is, yes. If you produce any kind of content that is available to anyone in a digital format, whether public, internal, or both, then that content needs to be accessible. If it’s not, you run the risk of possible legal action, or worse, excluding approximately 25% of the world’s population.

Access to the internet has been accepted as a basic human right by the United Nations, and there are multiple state and federal laws, as well as international guidelines that require varying degrees of accessibility to help ensure a solid baseline of access for everyone.

But don’t worry! You don’t need to memorize a bunch of legal jargon to get started. In fact, I recommend you don’t.

So, what can I do to get started?

You’re already off to a good start! It’s a big step in the right direction to acknowledge that a lack of digital accessibility exists and is an issue. But now that you’re aware of the problem, what is the best way you can start to fix it? One word: Training. Thankfully, there are plenty of high-quality, free (let me say it again for the people in the back, FREE!) training courses, videos, and webinars available on the internet, including our own new self-paced digital accessibility courses. Many conferences are also starting to include specific sessions on digital accessibility or are completely all about digital accessibility already, as is the case with our annual TechAccess Oklahoma conference.

Shameless plugs aside, the point is that many resources on how to make your content more accessible are just a quick internet search away. Have fun learning something new!

Progress is progress

I want to leave you with a few bits of advice that helped me when I first got started:

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Nobody gets it right the first time.
  • There’s no such thing as 100% accessibility. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
  • Making an effort goes a long way. Providing ways for folks to get in touch with you if they have any issues with your content is a simple way to make progress.
  • Think about usability over compliance.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

This blog is just the start of what we hope will give you easy, actionable ways to start making your digital content more accessible, so stay tuned to learn more about Digital Accessibility here every other week! If you have any specific accessibility questions (especially weird ones), shoot us an email. This is totally our jam!

Oklahoma ABLE Tech is Oklahoma’s Assistive Technology (AT) Act program. As part of the organization’s mission, the digital accessibility team offers training and technical assistance on topics related to digital accessibility, as well as accessibility evaluations of websites, web applications, and other types of digital content. To learn more about digital accessibility, you can visit the Digital Accessibility Program webpage or send an email to abt.a11y@okstate.edu.