Digital Accessibility Is Vital to a Successful DEI Initiative

by August Erickson
Development Manager

According to Glassdoor, in 2022, 41% of the United States companies reviewed on their platform indicated corporate investment into diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.

This figure is expected to continue to increase as companies and organizations ramp up their efforts to develop and prioritize their DEI initiatives—making it important to understand how digital accessibility factors into the equation.

What Is Digital Accessibility?

Digital accessibility is the practice of designing, developing and optimizing digital assets (such as websites and mobile apps) so that they can be utilized by those with disabilities.

While most people are familiar with physical accessibility standards, such as buildings providing wheelchair access, few are familiar with digital accessibility standards.

You may be surprised to know that there are globally recognized standards for digital accessibility, called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (or WCAG). These guidelines are published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is an international community founded in 1994.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide clearly defined success criteria for ensuring digital assets are accessible to those with disabilities. Additionally, they outline three conformance levels: A (lowest), AA (mid-range) and AAA (highest).

Version 2.2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is scheduled to be finalized in Q3 of this year (2023) and will outline nine new success criteria.

Why Is Digital Accessibility Important to DEI Initiatives?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. have some type of disability.

These disabilities include visual impairment, auditory loss, physical disabilities, reduced cognitive function and temporary disabilities.

The very nature of DEI initiatives is to create a more inclusive and equitable environment. By not including digital accessibility as part of their DEI initiatives, companies and organizations are actively excluding up to 26% of the general population from their digital assets.

Digital Accessibility Benefits Everyone

The “curb-cut effect” is when features designed to assist those with disabilities end up benefiting the general public as a whole.

The name comes from the curb cuts (miniature ramps) that are standard on sidewalks across the U.S. While these were originally designed for people using wheelchairs, they’re widely used by the general public, including parents with strollers, individuals using walkers and bicyclists.

A great example of the curb-cut effect when it comes to digital accessibility is color contrast. The color contract requirements outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are intended for those with visual impairments, such as color blindness. With that being said, they’re appreciated by a much larger audience, including individuals using low-quality monitors or devices with smaller screen sizes, as well as senior citizens with deteriorating eyesight.

By prioritizing digital accessibility, you’re not only providing equal access to those with disabilities you’re improving the user experience for all.

How to Include Digital Accessibility in Your DEI Initiative

I encourage all companies and organizations to include their commitment to digital accessibility as part of their DEI initiatives.

Here’s a high-level overview on how to get started:

Step #1: Allocate time and resources for internal education on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Step #2: Audit your digital assets using the WCAG success criteria. You can either do this manually or you can utilize third-party software to scan your digital assets for accessibility issues.

Step #3: Remediate your digital assets to meet the WCAG success criteria.

Step #4: Provide an accessibility statement for all digital assets.

If possible, it’s also incredibly beneficial to have individuals with disabilities user test your digital assets and provide feedback.

By including digital accessibility in DEI initiatives, we can continue to create a world that’s truly more inclusive and equitable for all.

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