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    The 4 W’s of Digital Accessibility (and How to Begin)

    by UsableNet

    Digital accessibility is designing or adapting digital environments, content, and tools—including websites, mobile apps, and smart devices—so they can be used by people with disabilities.

    Accessible apps and websites level the playing field. In physical spaces, many people think of wheelchair ramps or braille signs. Digital accommodations refer to captions and audio descriptions for videos and large touch targets on mobile apps, for example. 

    Accessibility in the digital world provides opportunities for disabled people to interact with digital content confidently and independently.

    This blog outlines the 4 basic W's of digital accessibility: who, where, when, and why you should improve your websites and apps to be more accessible. We even include a suggestion on, if you are ready, how you can begin.  

    1. Who Is Digital Accessibility For?

    More than 1 billion people around the world use assistive technology. Assistive technologies include text-to-speech software, and screen magnifiers, all designed to ease access for disabled people navigating the digital world.

    Disabled customers are the obvious beneficiaries of digital accessibility. But who benefits from digital accessibility? Everyone.

    For example: 

    • Video captions help the deaf, and 92% of Americans prefer to watch videos without sound.
    • Larger touch images help both elderly and low vision users.
    • Following the recommended contrast on apps helps people who are disabled and anyone looking at their phone screen on a particularly sunny day. 

    Digital accessibility can help those customers who are temporarily disabled, the elderly, people who are not native speakers, people in areas with a poor Internet connection, and more. 

    2. Where Is Digital Accessibility Needed?

    As of 2018, nearly 90% of Americans accessed the Internet through computers, tablets smartphones, and/or other smart devices. 70% of those Americans are online shoppers. Many people also continue to work from home even as COVID restrictions lift.

    In addition to online banking, scrolling social media, and food delivery apps, we are living in an increasingly digital world. But the world of e-commerce seems to be falling behind. The number of lawsuits launched against inaccessible apps and websites rose 64% in 2021.

    Digital accessibility is needed everywhere where people use technology. 

    3. When Do I Incorporate Digital Accessibility?

    Ideally, digital accessibility should be integrated from the beginning of your product lifecycle. It's a lot easier to design with accessibility in mind than trying to incorporate it as an afterthought. When accessibility guidelines are integrated from the beginning, you are better able to focus on promoting content and reaching a larger user base for your product.

    This doesn't mean that remediation of your digital assets is impossible. But, digital accessibility requires dedication and often times a company-wide commitment to be effective. 

    Digital accessibility is not a one-time project. Digital accessibility should be treated like cybersecurity. Accessibility is an ongoing process and requires organizational buy-in and company-wide training.

    Apps and websites grow and expand. Digital accessibility training across your teams ensures that your employees know how to create, update and maintain content that is accessible for all users. 

    4. Why Do I Need An Accessible App or Website? 

    1 in 4 people has a disability. That is a sizable number of people to potentially leave out from an already extremely digitally-dependent society. Accessibility expands your company's reach. 

    Just as there are legal regulations for physical accommodations, the same exists in the digital world. In March 2022, the DOJ issued guidance stating that businesses open to the public needed to have their websites accessible to the public. Per the DOJ, websites must be accessible to the public according to title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

    Over 4,000 lawsuits were filed in 2021 alleging that businesses' websites or apps were in violation of the ADA. Incorporating digital accessibility guidelines into your app or website from the beginning—or as soon as possible—can prevent ADA lawsuits.

    Digital accessibility is beneficial to a broad user base, including the disabled. Having good contrast ratios, captioned videos and simple layouts will increase your reputation as users promote your user-friendly experience. 

    How do I begin with digital accessibility? 

    With 90% of Americans owning smart devices and over 40 million of them being disabled, incorporating digital accessibility into your app or website's design ensures an inclusive experience for all users.

    Digital accessibility is important for reaching your customers in the disabled population. Additionally, digital accessibility is important for reaching customers that are elderly, temporarily disabled, and users with slower Internet speeds.

    Following the latest web accessibiity guidelines will also reduce the chances of your business receiving an ADA-based lawsuit. We've only touched on the basics of digital accessibility here.

    Your digital accessibility initiative requires planning and prioritization. Get started on your journey to digital accessibility now. Download our free ADA digital accessibility checklist. ready to start your accessibility journey with illustration of people using website pages

    Web Accessibility



    Founded in 2000, UsableNet created some of the first tools and platforms to make websites accessible and usable for all people. Starting out, we worked with government agencies as well as universities and corporations. Today, accessibility has become important to almost all companies. We provide accessibility solutions to Fortune 1000 companies, small and medium enterprises, government, and education organizations across industries including retail, travel, hospitality, food services, automotive, financial services, and healthcare.

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