Flip the Narrative on Accessibility

Flip the Narrative on Accessibility

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November 11, 2021
Woman working on laptop

Often, discussions promoting digital accessibility focus on inclusion - on how it’s the right thing to do. And they’re correct. You cannot have an inclusive brand or user experience without including accessibility. To discount or ignore individuals who are differently-abled sends a message to those who interact with your organization. But this is a limited point of view and there is much more to that story. Having an inclusive (and accessible) web presence is about reaching the larger audience to grow your brand. It’s about meeting your KPIs. 

Anyone who’s heard me speak has learned that I grew up as the non-disabled person in my immediate family. They’ll hear me say that the everyday things I did to make sure those around me could help me meet my needs were not some big deal, it was just a part of life in my household. For years I’ve suggested that, when accessibility becomes something we do every day in our professional lives, it will stop being something we need to explore - it will become a natural part of our standard operations. Why? Not because it’s the right thing to do (though it is) but because it makes sense that in this world of competition we need to reach all of our audience. 

Here's me (Donna) growing up in the 80's!

Image of Donna back in the 80s

Your Target Market Already Has Disabilities

That’s right, even if your organization’s personas do not represent disabled users, they’re already there. Nearly 25% of US and Canadian adults self-identify as having some kind of disability. Disabilities include auditory, mobility, cognitive, and visual challenges.  

Consider More than Visual Challenges

Most of us have heard about screen reader usage and color contrast, but in fact, users with visual challenges only make up a small percentage of the overall disabled community. In the US, 4.6% of those who self-identify as disabled have a vision disability with blindness or serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses, according to the CDC. Approximately 8% of men and 1 in 20 women are color blind. Though we absolutely need to ensure these needs are met, an overly focused approach to accessibility - narrowing in on visual considerations - is missing a larger portion of people whose needs also need to be met. 

Let’s take a moment to think about those who identify as a part of the vast neurodiverse community. In the US, 1 in 5 people identify as ADHD and 1 in 5 are dyslexic. Internationally, approximately 1% of the global population identifies as somewhere on the Autistic spectrum, a condition that can present uniquely in each individual. Only focusing on those who experience visual challenges online could have your brand missing out on more than 20% of the population.   

Need More Context? 

There are a variety of different disabilities and situations where the user benefits from accessible digital experiences. Let’s break down some considerations we should keep in mind when thinking about accessibility. 

Auditory

  • Disability: Hearing Loss, Deafness
  • Situational User Story that Benefits from Digital Accessibility: Crowd Noise, Cubical or Train, other Environmental
  • Example Solutions: Captions, Transcripts

Mobility

  • Disability: Parkinson's, ALS, Age-Related Tremors, Paralyzation
  • Situational User Story that Benefits from Digital Accessibility: Hands Full, Crowded Environment
  • Example Solutions: Keyboard Navigation, Target Size and Spacing

Cognitive

  • Disability: ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dementia
  • Situational User Story that Benefits from Digital Accessibility: Distracted, Emotional, Poor Bandwidth
  • Example Solutions: Clear Navigation, Clear CTA Links / Buttons, White Space

Visual

  • Disability: Diabetic Retinopathy. Low Vision, Color Blindness, Blindness
  • Situational User Story that Benefits from Digital Accessibility: Glare on Screen, Broken Screen
  • Example Solutions: High Contrast, Target Size and Spacing

It’s Already Happening

Many larger brands are already making the shift. Dove products “Real Beauty” campaign has expanded to include visual representation for individuals with disabilities. Xbox used their Super Bowl advertisement slot to showcase a new, more accessible controller. Go by an Old Navy store and notice the increased diversity - including individuals with disabilities - being represented. If major brands can start to make the shift to include a more realistic representation of their users, then the tide is starting to change. 

Image of woman from Dove's beauty campaign

Image source: Dove's Real Beauty campaign.

And the Legal Side Too…

In the US, the 508 Refresh that happened years ago aligned the American with Disabilities Act’s 508 standards with the international W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, AA standards. What does that mean? Organizations in the US need to have an accessible website. In Canada, Bill C-81 aligned their government with WCAG 2.1 AA standards. The EU is also aligned with WCAG 2.1 AA standards. Court cases have become a norm and it’s important  to talk to your legal team about your organization's approach. 

So What Does This Mean for Your Brand?

This means that by following the WCAG guidelines, you’ll be addressing audible, mobility, cognitive and visual considerations as a part of your standard process. 


Bake Accessibility In for Success

The easiest way to understand accessibility and to build it into your organizational culture is to start practicing it. Learn how to bring accessibility into action in your organization or contact our team to help guide you.