There have been many points throughout our history where society has had to reflect on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although there has been some progress, the Black Lives Matter movement, which was re-ignited following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, made us realize how much work still needs to be done. As a result, many of us have engaged in discussions about racial injustice in our personal lives and businesses began to consider their roles and opportunities on how to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives as well.
As a technology advisor who has partnered with several small business creatives across many industries, I have observed many businesses move into action by revisiting their brand core values, publishing statements across digital touchpoints, and hiring DE&I specialists to assist them in their efforts. While I applaud their efforts, they seemed to miss one more important aspect that must be addressed in order to truly be inclusive, and that is accessibility. As Tim Berners Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web Consortium so wisely put it, “The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
Here’s how you can take steps toward making your digital presence inclusive and accessible—and why it matters.
Just ICYMI, accessibility has become the new buzzword across all things digital over the past several months, especially after we’ve all had to rely more on technology and digital media to connect, communicate and maintain some sense of community. As the world shut down during the pandemic, we had to rely on the web, escalating the need for websites to be more accessible to everyone. This is why you might have even noticed accessibility features on your smartphone and social media platforms like Instagram that allow you to add alternative text for images or auto-generated captions for videos. I believe that tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple realize the importance of making their tools more accessible and they see it as the future.
Quite simply, accessibility means the quality of being able to be reached or entered by everyone. But when you apply accessibility to the web, we refer to it as the practice of making your website usable by as many people as possible. Traditionally, we think of accessibility as being about blind users, deaf users, and those who need to navigate a website by voice, screen readers, or other assistive technologies.
The primary disabilities that business owners should take into account when thinking about accessibility are:
Blind people using screen-readers
People with other visual impairments like color blindness
Deaf or hard of hearing individuals
The motor-impaired who use the keyboard to navigate
People who suffer from epileptic seizures
Those with cognitive and learning disabilities
According to a recent fact sheet published by The United Nations, approximately 15% of the world’s population, (an estimated 1 billion people,) live with disabilities. According to the CDC, 26 %, that’s one in four adults in the United States, have some type of disability. As the world’s largest minority group, it often surprises me that accessibility is not addressed along with DE&I conversations, especially after we had to rely so much on the web due to the world pandemic shut down.
I often use the term digital inclusivity to describe the practice of bringing it all together by creating a digital footprint for your business that is diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible. It’s very easy to understand how diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility can get lumped together, but it’s important to recognize that they don’t all mean the same thing:
Diversity: The practice of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.
Equity: The quality of being fair or impartial.
Inclusion: The action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.
Accessibility: The practice of being able to be reached or entered by everyone.
As you can see, each aspect overlaps and intertwines to create a broader perspective and portray a positive image to your target audience. That's why the benefits of creating a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible business are substantial. But don't you don't have to take my word for it. Studies show that businesses with more diverse, inclusive teams and accessible content see 15 times more revenue and sales, as well as an increased ROI.
Making your web presence accessible also comes with additional perks like boosting up your SEO, speeding up your site for visitors using mobile devices or slower network connections, and making it easier for visitors to have options in the way they absorb your content. So, not only does it increase your profitability and your visibility, but it's the right thing to do.
Aside from expanding your reach and making it easier to connect to a broader audience, there is one more aspect regarding digital inclusivity and accessibility that is important for business owners to know about—ADA compliance.
ADA compliance is another term that has gained popularity in recent months which stems from the federal law passed in 1990 called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although the laws passed under this regulation were originally geared toward certain businesses with physical locations, the law was expanded upon in 2010 to include standards for accessible design which mandated certain types of businesses to make all electronic and information technology like websites, be accessible to those with disabilities.
ADA compliance laws vary from state to state and there aren’t any clear rules, which makes it very tricky. As a result, many businesses of all sizes have received ADA lawsuits and demand letters for having websites that weren’t accessible. And these lawsuits are on an intense rise. For now, the only recourse is to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which isn’t a legal requirement but acts as a great reference point for recommendations on how to improve accessibility. These guidelines were created by the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), an international organization focused on maintaining web standards.
So, let's talk about how to make your web presence digitally inclusive and more accessible. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money, especially if you incorporate a few simple practices whenever you upload content to your website:
Provide your website visitors a clear path towards what you would like them to do. Menus, links, and buttons should be organized in a way that they are distinct from one another, and are easily navigated throughout the entire site. This also makes it easier if a user needs to zoom in and make the elements larger.
Headers that stay on the screen and continue as you scroll down can make your web pages appear crowded and overwhelming.
Alternative text is the hidden copy that gets attached to media files like images that appears if the media fails to load. Not only does it help screen-reading tools describe images to a visually impaired website visitor, but it acts as an SEO booster by helping search engines to crawl and rank your website better. A win-win!
By including captions, you are allowing users to read what is being said in your videos. (Bonus: this is also an SEO booster!)
It acts as another SEO booster by adding text transcripts to your website pages and helps hearing-impaired users understand the content that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
It’s important to have enough contrast between foreground elements, background colors, text, link text, and body text.
Although script fonts can be beautiful, they might be difficult to read.
Giving users the option to stop movements may make it easier for people who may suffer from epilepsy.
The benefits of making your web presence accessible and digitally inclusive are huge. It opens up the potential for you to expand your outreach and ensures that you aren’t shutting people out. There’s no reason to exclude anybody, especially since it’s relatively easy to avoid doing so. Aside from protecting you from possible lawsuits, it also has wonderful SEO boosting tendencies that will create increased traffic and conversions which ultimately will positively impact your bottom line.
This article was featured on Create & Cultivate's blog in honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on May 20th, 2021.