By Michael Caprara
If we were inching into the digital world pre-pandemic, this pivotal last year has pushed us into overdrive. Digital access and devices are deeply intertwined with our daily lives more than ever: they’re how we learn, work, shop, and even manage our health and finances. When it comes to our reliance on these essential tools, there’s no slowing down or turning back, and the same should apply to how we approach accessibility.
In theory, today’s digital revolution is supposed to make managing routine tasks and responsibilities easier for everyone, including the 61 million individuals with disabilities in the United States. But the digital divide in accessibility may prevent students, employees, and customers with disabilities from equally engaging online. It affects large swaths of our population, as well as aging adults—and, according to the Census Bureau, the number of adults age 65 and older will outnumber those under the age of 18, in a little over a decade.
There’s no question—in 2021, organizations are being measured by their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, both internally and externally. Here are some digital accessibility insights to keep in mind as we work to usher in a more inclusive future.
- Lawsuits are on the rise
Being proactive about following accessibility standards and guidelines can save your business from costly litigation and a wounded brand image. The filing of federal and state digital accessibility lawsuits tapered off due to shutdown orders at the beginning of the pandemic, but the number significantly shot up by the middle and end of last year. In fact, lawsuits increased by 23% in 2020, amounting to almost ten a day, according to a report from digital accessibility company UsableNet. Filings have gone beyond websites and mobile apps, with video accessibility becoming a new target.
- Live captioning has never been more in-demand
Communication Access Real-Time (CART) services ensure virtual gatherings, livestreams, and webinars are accessible by delivering synchronized speech-to-text captions from a professional transcriber to any screen. Although this service is designed to enhance the virtual experience for individuals with hearing loss or deafness, anyone can benefit. Having the option to read along can boost comprehension in distracting environments and for those who speak English as a second language. Users can then review the complete transcript once a gathering wraps up, whether or not they were present during the live event.
- Nothing beats human intelligence—for now
Artificial intelligence has broken new ground in its ability to augment accessibility on websites, apps, and connected devices with very little effort or commitment. Still, while AI-powered features may advance digital accessibility efforts across the board, the technology has functional limitations that can’t be ignored. For example, current tools for auto-captioning are not yet as accurate as professional human transcribers, and auto-generated alt text typically requires stringent accuracy checks. These tools will inevitably improve with time, but for now, they simply don’t replace tried-and-true human-centered accessibility tactics.
- An inaccessible website means lost revenue
A recent report by SCORE, the nation’s largest network of mentors dedicated to helping small businesses, revealed that businesses can expand their market and increase employee retention, productivity, and morale by improving accessibility. It further noted 71% of web users with disabilities will simply leave a website that is not accessible. As Americans with disabilities have a disposable income of $490 million, businesses without fully accessible websites are missing out on a valuable revenue stream.
- Standards will always evolve
Don’t get too comfortable: Just as technology and its functionality remain in a constant state flux, accessibility guidelines and standards are consistently being refined. In fact, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published a draft last year of updated guidelines to be included in its proposed WCAG 2.2, which are expected to go into effect in summer 2021. Building upon 2018’s WCAG 2.1, this latest update focuses on “improving accessibility for three groups: users with cognitive abilities or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devises.”
Need help staying ahead of the trends and making your digital content accessible to all? The Viscardi Center’s team of Digital Accessibility experts are here to help.
Chief Information Officer, The Viscardi Center