Why Digital Accessibility is Important
Digital accessibility is designing digital content to give everyone full access and use. Digital content can include websites, apps, electronic documents, kiosks, and more. Digital tools need to enable independent use by people with disabilities.
Disability is a spectrum and can be temporary or permanent. The CDC defines disability as "any condition of the body or mind... that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions)." This means that people need to access digital content in different ways. The goal is to present as few barriers to use as possible. Accessibility is essential for some, and useful for all.
Over the years, digital accessibility has received increased visibility. The pandemic exposed accessibility challenges and opportunities for the cultural sector. A digital content boom occurred as many artists made their work available online. Organizations quickly learned strategies to make arts and culture more accessible. These were necessary changes, but they were frustrating to some people with disabilities. Accommodations requested for years were only made once non-disabled patrons were impacted.
These changes benefited people with disabilities, without disabilities, and people from different regions. Being genuinely accessible in the future requires adopting a strong online content strategy. To make that strategy, we have to engage with the needs of the entire community. We are in the middle of a digital revolution. Strategies for access have become intertwined with digital accessibility.
While there are many reasons to make digital accessibility a priority here are our top three:
- Show your commitment to serving all users.
Making your digital content accessible to everyone communicates your dedication to your patrons. Many organizations state that they value equity and inclusion. Taking steps to create a positive experience for everyone supports these values.
People with permanent and temporary disabilities represent a vast untapped and underserved market. Accessible design can reach a larger customer base. This can benefit your bottom line.
- Maintain legal compliance and avoid lawsuits.
According to Level Access, "60% of organizations reported that current litigation trends have motivated them to move faster to achieve accessibility compliance."
Yet many organizations still have a ways to go to be equitable. There are many accessibility guidelines and recommendations out there. It may feel overwhelming to try to meet every criterion all at once. But it is important to start and continually keep improving. We invite you to explore the resources below to make your work more accessible:
Evaluating Your Organization’s Digital Accessibility
To improve digital accessibility, an organization needs to check its current systems:
- WAVE®: The Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool tests webpages and collects accessibility data.
- The Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C) has a list of web accessibility evaluation tools. They also have a guide on how to choose the best one for your needs
- Google’s Mobile Friendly Test checks if your webpage works well on mobile devices. (This tests functionality, not accessibility.) DigitalA11y has 11 Free Mobile Accessibility Testing Tools for apps and websites.
- Level Access has a yearly survey about the State of Digital Accessibility. This is useful for understanding broader trends.
Digital Accessibility for Written Content
There are many ways to make your written digital content accessible:
- Make digital written content compatible with screen readers
- Use legible fonts and dyslexia friendly fonts
- Have color contrast for text and images
- Make web pages where people can zoom in/out while remaining functional
- Use clear and concise writing
- Hemmingway Editor provides great suggestions to make your writing clearer.
- The APA Style guide has information about bias-free language. They focus on ways to talk about all people with inclusivity and respect.
- Have versions of your website in multiple languages. You can use free translation services or paid services. Make sure you use the correct language tag for screen readers.
- Make your content friendly for keyboard navigation.
Also, CSUN’s Universal Design Center has useful resources about accessible digital media. They share best practices for creating accessible emails, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and more.
Accessible Social Media
Accessible Social has information about making all kinds of social media content accessible. It is a free resource hub for digital marketers and everyday social media users.
Resources for Virtual Events
Virtual events can include digital meetings, recorded/live streamed performances, and educational events. It can be useful to have ASL interpretation, captions, audio descriptions, and more. The resources below are a good place to start:
- Accessibility: Resources to Help Ensure Accessibility of Your Virtual Events for People with Disabilities (National Endowment for the Arts)
- How to Produce a Livestreamed Event: A Producer’s Guide to the Tools and Embedded Values (HowlRound)
Online arts offerings can make the arts accessible to people in new geographic areas. Yet, knowing your audience is key. Be aware that poor broadband access or lack of access to technology can prevent people from engaging with your art. Supplement your digital marketing efforts with print or other mediums as needed.
Designing a Digital Accessibility Strategy
Art Access, an advocacy organization in Utah, has a guide on How to Make an Accessibility Plan. You can also use their Digital Accessibility Tools. The Metro Regional Arts Council also has resources on digital accessibility topics.
When designing digital content strategy, remember that users with disabilities are major stakeholders. Talk to your users about their needs, both online and in-person. Make sure you stay connected to local advocacy organizations, such as Colorado's Art of Access Alliance, for the latest resources.
As organizations, artists, and community members, we must prioritize digital accessibility. In the post-COVID world, let's truly make arts and culture available to all.
Want to Learn More?
CCI Digital Accessibility Webinar
CCI is hosting a webinar on digital accessibility on May 20th from noon to 1 pm (MDT). We will feature three digital accessibility experts, then have time for questions. Vijay Mathew co-founded HowlRound Theatre Commons and is an expert on accessible virtual events. Carolina Cará and Ryan Adams are Accessibility Architects specializing in web design and digital content. Click here for more information or to sign up!
Digital Accessibility Consultants
Many services can create digital accessibility solutions specific to your organization. For example, The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH offers strategic planning, training, evaluations, and accessibility solutions.
W3C’s Free “Introduction to Web Accessibility” Online Course
The Web Accessibility Initiative provides a free course on web accessibility. It gives you the foundation you need to make your digital technology accessible, so that it:
- works well for people with disabilities
- meets international standards
- enhances the user experience for everyone
If you have any feedback you would like to share, please contact email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you!
Note: CCI is not responsible for the content of these resources being accurate or up to date. Being featured on this list is not an endorsement of any products or services. This is an introductory list. More resources are available online.