Written By Srinidhi Raghavan
As people with disabilities, we are used to encountering inaccessible locations as we navigate the physical world. The digital world holds a lot of promise for people with disabilities to experience access fully. However, this is not the reality. Accessibility is an important part of the digital experience as well but accessibility that is built into the design.
People with disabilities must be able to experience the web-based services, content and other digital products the same way as those without disabilities. The goal of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, (GAAD) a global event that shines a light on digital access and inclusion for people with disabilities, is “to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access/inclusion and people with different disabilities.”
In a covid 19 world, organisations, governments, educational institutions and others are pushing for digital presence and digital engagement. Hence, we need to speak about digital access more than ever now.
As part of our work on Reclaiming Digital Spaces, we thought we would answer a few frequently asked questions about people with disabilities and how they use digital services, technologies of varied kinds and devices such as phones, desktops, tablets, laptops etc.
What is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility means that people are able to navigate, use a product or system with the help of assistive technologies.
Some of the most common problems experienced according to the GAAD website is: Low Contrast Text (86.3%), Missing Image Alt Text (66%), Empty Links (59.9%), Missing Form Input Labels (53.8%), Empty Buttons (28.7%) etc.
For example, an “accessible” web site may be designed so that the buttons are labelled, text can be enlarged by the user, or may be designed so that it can be interpreted and “read out loud” by screen reader software used by people who are blind or have low-vision, videos are captioned for deaf and hard of hearing persons, navigation ability with keys as well as with mouse etc.
Who is digital accessibility for?
However, digital accessibility is seen as a way to make digital space accessible for disabled people. By exploring the concept of Universal Design, we can broaden our understanding of digital accessibility. Universal design is a concept that imagines access and design in a uniform manner and to the greatest extent possible used and understood by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. We share a few examples of common disabilities to break down the understanding of accessibility:
- Auditory impairments — such as deafness
- Cognitive disabilities — a very wide range of impairments that affect the ability to process, understand and remember on-screen content, but which are not intellectual impairments. Examples include dyslexia, autism and attention deficit disorder.
- Physical impairments that affect manual dexterity— such as Repetitive Stress Injury, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, arthritis, conditions that cause tremors.
- Physical impairments that severely limit or prevent the use of the hands, that may result from conditions such as cerebral palsy, paralysis.
- Visual impairments — such as blindness, color blindness, low vision, and impaired field of vision.
What is assistive technology?
Assistive technologies, sometimes referred to as adaptive technologies, allow for greater independence for people with disabilities by enhancing or changing how we interact with the technology itself.
What is a screen reader and who uses it?
A screen reader is an application that attempts to identify, interpret and translation information into speech based on what is displayed on the screen. Screen readers are relied on by vision impaired or blind people. Software that reads out on-screen content may also be used by people who have difficulty reading, because of a cognitive impairment.
What are closed captions and who uses it?
Closed captions are textual versions of any audio content on the screen. Text versions of multimedia are important for disabled users including but not limited to deaf and hard of hearing persons, people with learning or developmental disabilities.
What is a speech recognition software?
A software application that enables a computer to accept voice commands. This allows for little or no use of the keyboard and mouse. People who have difficulty moving their fingers, elbows or wrists.
Can the digital world be accessible?
Of course! The digital world removes barriers and opens up many possibilities for disabled people. A well-researched document with guidelines and rules on implementing accessibility already exists. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were developed in cooperation with individuals and organisations around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility. The WCAG document explains how to make content more accessible to people with disabilities. Web Content generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including text, images and sounds and even code or markup that defines design and structure of the application/content
Who is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for?
WCAG is primarily intended for:
- Web content developers (page authors, site designers, etc.)
- Web authoring tool developers
- Web accessibility evaluation tool developers
- Others who want or need a standard for web accessibility, including for mobile accessibility
Can disabled people watch movies online? Buy train/flight tickets? Use digital payment applications? Cab shares? In an accessible world, this would be easy. But right now, we have to work towards this world. Help us build an accessible world with us over the next few months as we discuss digital access, barriers to access and making the digital experience enjoyable for everyone.