Access to websites, information, and content looks differently for many people. Different individuals navigate digital spaces differently. And one of the largest communities in the world is often left out of the process of design. This community is for those who are disabled, or differently-abled. And folks in this community range from having physical disabilities, to invisible, to neurological, developmental and more. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but with the 30th year anniversary of the ADA next month and the era of COVID-19 and rise of navigation in our daily lives through digital spaces, I think it is important that we center and uplift the disability community in the conversation of design and accessibility.
On July 26, 2020 the United States will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a comprehensive piece of legislation aimed at providing protections against discrimination, while working to guarantee that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities and access to living a standard of life. This ranges from employment opportunities, purchasing of goods and services, and civic participation in State, Federal, and local government programs. The ADA was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the ADA is seen as working toward an intersectional approach to provide equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities.
It is estimated that over 57 million people in the United States have a disability throughout their life. Worldwide, that figure is estimated to be over 15% of the world’s population, more than 1 billion people. (https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability) The importance of inclusive design and access in the digital age around disability is not only a commitment that should be made, but one that drives innovation and inclusion for folks who have traditionally been left out.
Below I wanted to share some points, resources, methods, and techniques on how to think about designing websites and content that is more accessible for folks with disabilities. In addition, how to create virtual and physical spaces that are inclusive. Spaces that work to elevate and center the perspectives, lived experiences, input, and most importantly, brilliance, that individuals with disabilities have in the design process.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are produced through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3) through their W3 process for providing a single, shared and inclusive standard for accessibility of web content. This is done in collaboration with individuals and organizations around the world. The standard works to meet the needs of individuals, organizations and government entities globally to better serve the disabled community in their navigation and access of web content.
- WCAG has evolved over the last 20 years, currently on WCAG 2.1.
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is also part of W3 and works to development standards for HTML, CSS and other languages. Below are some great resource on guidelines that have been created by W3 for organizations and individuals to use in their own management, creation and design of content:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, see WCAG Overview
- Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines, see ATAG Overview
- User Agent Accessibility Guidelines, see UAAG Overview
- Accessible Rich Internet Applications, see WAI-ARIA Overview
Government Organization — ADA Toolkit
The ADA.gov website has a Tool Kit specifically designed to help elevate access and work to combat barriers that may work to discriminate against folks with disabilities. This tool is an important resource in how to make sure folks with disabilities are being engaged, and how they have access to important information that impacts their lives. With this also being an election year and the year of the census, it is crucial that all forms of government work to create equitable and accessible experiences for attaining information.
Practices to Center Disabled Perspectives
- Web Accessibility Statement: This statement (mentioned above as well) serves two important functions. The first is that it presents information about the target of web accessibility that the website/organizations hopes to achieve, and the methods to achieve those metrics. This can also serve as an acknowledgement where the website and organization can improve in those areas. The second function is that the statement serves an intentional acknowledgement and commitment to accessibility. Here is a great resource by nomensa on these statements.
- Mobile Accessibility: The rise of mobile devices (from smartphones, to tablets, watches) as one of the primary ways that individuals engage with the internet shows that it is crucial to design not only for desktop users, but for mobile users. WC3 provides great resources on understanding the barriers that mobile users face in regards to web accessibility.
- In the design process, making intentional steps to include individuals who identify with having a disability. Especially having individuals in positions of leadership to guide this development with this perspective in mind as a key part of the design process. There is diversity in the disability community as well, and taking an intersectional approach of how gender, race, class, education status and other important factors of identity come in the user navigation experience is vital. Engaging with beta testers, consultants, advocacy organizations, or key stakeholders who identify with having disabilities throughout the design process of a website/app is often overlooked. Acknowledging and compensating them for their insight, emotional labor and work is an important step to center and combat this marginalization.
The work to be more inclusive for folks with disabilities still has a long way to go, and this work is going to be a collaborative process that involves center, uplifting, engaging and supporting the perspectives of the disabled community. Whether you are reading this as someone with a disability, or an ally, there is a way that everyone can work to be strong advocates for change. For the rising tech leader, and leaders in the industry, I hope this article works as a positive force and resource to create a more equitable society and access to information for all individuals.