Tropical Leaves

Accessibility in a Digital Era

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By William Bae

Accessibility – the availability and navigability of services for persons with disabilities – has long been a rising issue, but with the advent of virtual workspaces, issues become more pressing while solutions become dated. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), for example, was passed in 1990; though it mandates that public and private spaces incorporate accessibility practices, digital accessibility remains relatively untouched. The proverb ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is particularly applicable in our new environments, with ramps and braille nowhere in sight. After all, with everything seemingly at the tip of your fingers, it is easy to forget that others are not so lucky.

Digital accessibility is not too different from accessibility in the outside world – digitally accessible products commonly serve the visually, hearing, motor, and cognitively impaired. Websites and mobile apps can incorporate accessibility for these audiences through methods like screen readers, closed captioning, alternative text for images, and keyboard navigability – many of which are useful for their abled audiences as well. You have likely already taken advantage of these features, possibly without even recognizing them as accessibility-centric. Take, for example, the speech technology at the core of Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri: originally developed to support the blind community.

Of course, some companies are taking initiatives to invest in accessibility. For example, Apple prides itself on pushing forward the accessibility of their products, integrating features like VoiceOver and Switch Control into their OS. In India, the National Association of Software and Services Companies organised a round table for digital accessibility awareness within the country – all steps in the right direction.

Still, according to WebAIM, 98.1% of home pages have at least one WCAG(Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) failure, despite the 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities. With virtual workplaces becoming ever more prominent, will this population remain underserved?