People with disabilities have a lot on their plates. Everyday life can be a struggle, and finding ways to navigate it poses many challenges.
For an already tumultuous existence, the introduction of COVID-19 has turned many of their worlds upside down. There has been a substantial shift in nearly every aspect of society, including the transference to a technology-centric way of life.
With COVID, having access to technology is no longer an option—it is a necessity. Social distancing dictates that humans must connect through phones and computers, but for disabled people this is not always feasible.
Because of this massive upheaval of in-person contact and subsequent lawsuits against them, the American Disability Act (ADA) has established an additional section of accessibility compliance standards specifically geared towards websites and mobile devices.
Accessibility Compliance Standards and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Both the ADA and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have produced sets of policies that are intended to make resources accessible to all disabled people. This is because there was a lack of accessible mobile apps and websites that met prior compliance standards.
Accessibility Compliance Standards
The ADA’s accessibility compliance standards requires that alternatives be provided for people with disabilities. You may see things like this when there are subtitles available or if there is a ramp along with a set of stairs.
However, up until the COVID technological shift, websites were not included—only physical places. Thus, they introduced section 508 to incorporate all sites, including government sites and any related businesses.
To validate adherence to accessibility compliance standards, the owner must have its site or app verified by an accessibility specialist. They will determine whether or not the program meets both the ADA and W3’s compliance standards and guidelines.
The owner has the option of issuing an accessibility statement, which has information on:
- What was known to be tested and level of compliance
- What has not been tested and a disclaimer that you are not responsible
- How to contact you in the event of an audit
Though helpful, releasing an accessibility statement does not guarantee that you will not be victim of a lawsuit. Even the smallest adjustment to the site or app that is not tested could invalidate the entire statement.
Because nitpicking through a website or app to determine its level of compliance can be tedious and time-consuming, automated accessibility testing software has been crafted to do it for you.
Notwithstanding, there is no equivalent for an actual accessibility specialist, as the software poses a couple problems:
- When facing legal persecution, the court may not accept automatic evaluations
- Sometimes, they only accept validation from an actual certified accessibility specialist
- Most only locate about 25% of the noncompliance incidences
Even though each province, country, and state has its own regulations, if your market is on a global scale, the owner must meet all of their standards.
The W3 has established its own set of standards that is frequently updated, which are known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)—we are currently on version 2.1.
However, unlike the ADA’s regulations, the WCAG 2.1 are merely guidelines. This means that they are not as strictly enforced through the W3.
Under the WCAG 2.1, accessible content is defined as:
Browsers, software applications, and operating systems are targeted within these guidelines. They also have varying levels of conformance to determine the severity of violations.
Some of its guidelines recommend:
- Adjusting visuals, including
- Page layouts
- Alt. text for all images
- Making things more ergonomic, by
- Including keyboard navigation
- Assuring software from all platforms (ex. Microsoft Office and PDFs) is accessible
- Including focus states for links to help with readability
- Altering content and structure, by
- Including clear, concise links
- Including a title, headings, and clearly visible text
- Making content left aligned
These are just a few of the WCAG 2.1’s guidelines, but the other recommended guidelines are plentiful. They can always be built upon and improved, and they are taking great strides to make technology more accessible for disabled people.
How Can We Make Things More Accessible?
Depending on their needs, disabled people should have a plethora of options available to help them navigate electronic devices. Take, for instance, those with psychological disabilities—the following factors could be adjusted to make things easier:
- Sentence structure
- Page layouts
- White space
The blind or deaf/blind could be aided with:
- Brightness settings
Those with temporary or permanent disabilities/injuries could use:
- Audible software
- Keyboard tab navigation
People with cognitive or learning disabilities would benefit from:
- Removal of animation and automated videos
- Simplified page layouts (on any device)
And, finally, those with travel impairments could receive accommodations for:
- Food services/deliveries
- Accessible hotel reservations
- Distanced or portable doctor appointments
Innovative advocates are constantly building upon these ideas to improve accessibility.
For the disabled, functioning during a technology-based and pandemic-ridden society can be nearly insurmountable. However, organizations such as the ADA and the W3 are trying their best to make things more accessible for them.
Making things easier to perceive, ergonomically friendly, and comprehendible for all are the ultimate goals of organizations such as the aforementioned. Regularly doing research and building on existing policies and guidelines allows us to take continued strides to a more balanced society.
With the newest addition of section 508 to the accessibility compliance standards and the updated version of the WCAG 2.1, we have come even farther in assisting people with disabilities as much as possible when trying to operate phones and computers effectively.
Continued support from the community, business owners, corporations, and government departments will be able to assist disabled people both on a micro and macro scale during these trying times—they can help with everyday life at home and functionality at work or in school.
We have come a long way, but there is still a long road ahead of us!