Accessibility is a simple concept referring to how attainable, reachable, or able to be accessed a thing is to general audiences. It is an idea that we all deal with daily.
Take, for example, a restaurant that is elevated just a few feet above the level of the sidewalk, for this discussion. Such an establishment should be accessible to anyone who can afford to eat there. But if there are no ramps by which a person in a wheelchair can enter, then there is a limitation on its accessibility.
Another example might be a tree house. A tree house is much easier for a child to enter than, say, an 80-year-old man. That is an accessibility profile.
But our subject is digital accessibility.
What is Digital Accessibility?
Digital accessibility follows the same basic premise as general accessibility. It is a measure or description of what portions of the general public can access a digital asset such as a website, application, database, and so on.
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According to the University of Minnesota, Digital Accessibility is about how accessible digital content is. They go on to say that the idea is part of how we promote equality in digital spaces, making them more inclusive, and not less.
Digital Accessibility & Online Business
A website for a startup business, or any kind of online business, is not unlike the restaurant in our introduction. Our restaurant features a barrier to entry, steps up from the sidewalk. Your startup business website is similar because it exists online. We do not just walk onto your website. We have to activate some machinery, navigate through a browser, click a few ads, maybe create an account, and so on. But because humans are inherently different, some people will have more difficulty than others accessing your website.
If your website is interested in selling things, people being unable to access it is a problem for the proprietor of that business. So, when it comes to doing business, digital accessibility isn’t just about fairness and inclusivity. It’s about broadening your potential customer demographics and making money.
Now, suppose someone in a wheelchair wants to enter that restaurant. The person has plenty of money and an appetite, but the owners have not installed ramps. Clearly, everyone loses. The wheelchair-bound would-be diner doesn’t get lunch, and the restaurant doesn’t earn money. This is no good.
The less digital accessibility your startup business has, the more like that restaurant it becomes. So, what is to be done? First, let’s talk about the possible barriers to entry a website could have.
Barriers to Digital Accessibility
There are many ways we can limit access to our sales pages and neglect reputational concerns by ignoring digital accessibility. They include, but are not limited to:
- Visual impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Manual impairments
These are common types of impairments that are easily accommodated in an online setting.
Visual impairments can often be accommodated through the use of screen readers. Images that include alternative text can also help those with certain visual impairments. Those with hearing impairments can often be helped by including closed captioning in video content. Finally, people who cannot operate a computer mouse can be accommodated by designing sites that are navigable by using tab and arrow keys.
These are just a few examples of ways we can increase digital accessibility. Of course, our list is not exhaustive. But we can go a long way toward boosting accessibility by doing these simple things. It’s important that we do this because it is the right thing, and because it is good for capturing total markets. But that’s not all.
Legal Reasons for Boosting Digital Accessibility
The federal government and the ADA have expressed concern over digital accessibility due to the sheer popularity of online assets.
The U.S. Dept of Justice has released some compelling literature on the subject. They have stated:
“The Department considers websites to be covered by Title III even though there are no defined requirements for websites in the regulation or ADA Standards currently.”
That is a chilling statement for any online business that has made no considerations concerning digital accessibility. It means that laws could be passed, amendments to Title III could be made, and regulations could be drafted that would impose fines, fees, and other consequences for online business owners who do not accommodate those with special accessibility needs.
Establishing and maintaining regulatory compliance has always been an important part of doing business. Federal and state governments must ensure that public safety and fair access are enforced, at least to a reasonable degree.
Many forward-thinking businesses will establish compliance not just with regulations currently on the books, but with regulations they expect to be written into law in the near future. Digital accessibility is well within that category.
Total Market Capture is Enough
But pursuing digital accessibility is not just about avoiding possible legal entanglements. It’s about providing access not to most, but to all members of your marketing demographics.
It’s about not having your wheelchair-bound would-be patrons go someplace else. Like any good business plan, it is about meeting a need and providing value to paying customers. In the final analysis, it’s just one more way we can beat the competition.