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Why is Digital Accessibility Important?


Seda Maurer | February 2020

What do you think of when you read or hear the word “Accessibility”? A person in a wheelchair? A blind person walking with a white cane in hand? Someone with a hearing aid?

You are correct in all accounts, but you are still not thinking broadly enough. In this blog we hope to introduce you to that broad picture of Digital Accessibility and why it should matter to you.

Accessibility means providing equal access to individuals with disabilities. We will maintain the focus of this blog on Digital Accessibility (DA). Digital Accessibility means providing equal access to the Web and its content to people with all abilities and disabilities.

1 of every 7 individuals in the world have a form of disability. This is over 1 billion people! 

We’ve witnessed the rapid growth of technology in all aspects of our lives in the past 20 years or so. Some of us are immigrants to technology. Many of us are native to technology and smart devices. We are at a point with technology that we can’t do much without it, or without connecting through the internet. But, if we don’t take Digital Accessibility into account, who are we choosing to leave out? 

Different Abilities We Need to Consider When Designing and Developing an Application

Sensory Constraints:   

  • Vision Impairment
  • Hearing Impairment  
  • Speech Impairment    
  • Mobility Constraints                                                          

Cognitive Constraints:

  • Memory

  • Reading
  • Attention
  • Problem Solving
  • Math Comprehension
  • Visual Comprehension
  • Seizures

The Top 7 Things That Make an Application Accessible

1. Keyboard (only) Operable

Keyboards are very important to those who don’t have the ability to use a mouse due to arthritis for example, as well as those who use screen-readers and can’t see the screen.

2. Proper Navigation

Proper navigation of any application is highlighted most when it’s navigated using a screen-reader (SR). SRs are assistive technology that help those with vision impairments and reading constraints to “listen” to what’s presented in a screen allowing them to interact, using the keyboard. The navigation including the tab order and reading order of the content, as well as the focus states.

3. Proper Content Structure

Content structure communicates the hierarchy and the relationship of content, for the all types of users, including SR users. The content structure includes the page title, headings, and lists. This is especially important for people with memory, attention, or problem-solving constraints like our aging population or even yourself when sleep deprived or stressed.

4. Good Content Presentation

Adequate color contrast, is very important for people with low vision and different types of vision impairments to see and read key elements on the screen. Using the proper font, size, length of sentence and grouping of content helps the users with reading constraints to also be able to read and understand that screen. BONUS…visual presentation adds to the clarity of content for all users, conveying subtle cues of sophistication and expertise that users notice but can’t always name.

5. Images with Descriptive Text (Alt-text)

All types of images, graphs, and charts should have a text description of that image that is read to SR users. Help users see with their ears. BONUS…alt text can add SEO value as well.

6. Quality Forms  

Forms can be very complicated and one of the most difficult to navigate, if not designed and coded properly. When designed properly, all types of users benefit, not just people with disabilities. Consider that revenue is frequently lost when users leave a checkout page or that companies leak costs through repeated training for hard-to-understand online forms.

7. Adaptive, or at LEAST Responsive

The adaptive or responsive aspects of an application is as important as keyboard operability, especially if the application is expected to be viewed in a tablet or a mobile device. People with low vision frequently zoom in to a screen at 200-400%!

Sabre has a large number of applications that are web-based. We service retail consumers as well as thousands of people that work for organizations that use our products for their daily activities. Thus, Sabre has focused on Digital Accessibility for years. 

Keep in mind that many people have disabilities that are not visible. No one likes to talk about such constraints because they fear pity and being stigmatized. One of the most common of such constraints is Dyslexia, a reading constraint. Different studies indicate that at least 20% of the US population has Dyslexia. This means one out of five individuals that you know may have Dyslexia. That’s a lot of people to ignore when we design and develop a product! 

I’m forgetting something…memory constraints. We deal with stress in our lives all the time. However, the levels of stress fluctuate based on circumstances. Stress is the number one influencer and destroyer on short-term memory. Imagine that you are facing a deadline and working extra hours and possibly not sleeping enough. You now have a temporary disability. Think about your expectations from the software you are using. Should the application be smart enough to assist you with accessing and displaying important information? 

We all probably know people who have visible or obvious disabilities but many of us suffer temporary disabilities or compensate for invisible disabilities. People with disabilities are not a minority and in fact, they make our products better by forcing us to look at things just a little bit differently.

We ALL benefit from “well designed” and thoughtful products!