2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which established protections for Americans with disabilities similar to those protections enacted with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In addition to making it illegal to discriminate against Americans with disabilities, the ADA also created accessibility requirements for businesses and public services. This is why you see ramps at buildings, braille on signage, closed captioning and many other enhancements designed to help enable people with all abilities in their everyday life.
While not part of the initial bill, provisions for web and mobile application access are now covered under the ADA — though it’s not explicitly called out. The Department of Justice was working on official updates to Title III to include accessibility guidelines, but that work stopped in 2017.
According to statistics that were updated in 2019, the Center for Disease Control says that 26% of Americans (one in four people) have some type of disability. That is 61 million people in the U.S. alone, representing a massive audience that you want to make sure you can reach.
What is Accessibility?
Accessibility is the act of making your product, whether it be a website, application or similar, usable for as many people as possible, regardless of ability.
It is different from usability, which is the degree to which a person can use a product to effectively achieve a goal.
Why is Accessibility Important?
Accessibility is important because if your product isn’t accessible to people with visual, hearing, or mobile disabilities, then you are excluding a large number of potential users from access to your services.
Accessibility also helps people without disabilities, such as those recovering from injury, people who have changing hearing or vision abilities, situational limitations like being on a loud train and unable to hear audio, or users with slow or no network connectivity.
By designing and building accessible products, you can increase your potential audience size, market share and revenue, while also ensuring your website is available to all who want to access it.
The bottom line is that accessibility hurts no one and helps everyone.
Going Beyond Accessibility with Inclusivity
In addition to accessibility, inclusivity and representation are also important. You want to make sure that when you engage with customers. They see themselves represented in your product.
- Use diverse photography
- Use relevant and diverse photography across race, gender/identity, orientation, and age for the audience and global regions you serve.
- Use inclusive language
- Try to use gender-inclusive pronouns and avoid using examples that may only relate to a subset of your audience. When writing about those with disabilities, use people-first language.
- Don’t write in local colloquialisms
- Saying something goes together like “peanut butter and jelly” or like “fish and chips” mean the same thing, but would a global audience know that you are trying to say two things that go together, or would the comparison fall flat?