The huge rise in digital content in the past decade poses many questions about the future of the internet. And while there's much discussion around the best ways to provide content to consumers, one supremely important element is often overlooked: digital accessibility.
However, that is all about to change, according to Todd Bankofier, CEO of AudioEye. According to Bankofier, digital accessibility is quickly maturing itself in the marketplace and becoming a part and parcel of every user experience.
Right now, what's the level of awareness around digital accessibility?
In the US alone, 22% of adults have some form of a disability. But even three years ago, there was very little discussion around the overriding problem of accessibility for all users. Since then, there's slowly become an understanding of a need and ultimately a solution for making digital content accessible for everyone.
While the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not issued binding rules or regulations on ADA compliance for websites, an increasing number of companies have faced lawsuits from blind and deaf plaintiffs alleging their websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the private sector, there are really no mandates, except for a few industries. The airline industry had to be accessible by December of last year and the healthcare and telecom industries have been instructed to take similar steps, but with no clear deadline in place.
What are some examples of digital accessibility?
If there is a video on your website, can someone who is deaf understand what the video is about? To be fully accessible, it would need captioning. If a user is visually impaired, can they navigate your website? Unless coded properly, assistive technologies such as screen readers may not be able to fully understand and interact with site content, which inhibits access for users who rely on those technologies to navigate the web. Additionally, cloud-based assistive tools can be integrated with websites to provide users with alternative ways for accessing content. For example, text may be converted to speech (TTS), providing users with the option of listening to site content instead of reading.
There's also the issue of pictures and other visuals. Text can be properly added into the website code so that an audible reader can it pick up. For example, if there's a picture of a car on a mountain road, an audible reader will say "picture of a white car driving on a mountain road" so the visually impaired can understand the pictorial element of the site and context.
In addition to hearing and visual impairments, other types of disabilities should also be considered. For example, wading through lots of website copy can be very difficult for users with dyslexia or colorblindness. For these users, additional controls and options can be provided to improve the usability of digital content. Providing access to a specialized font for dyslexia and making available options for changing font and background colors for those with colorblindness can improve the user experience for many users.
How do you determine if a website is truly accessible?
There's an international set of standards for digital accessibility - Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. This is the set of standards seen as the baseline of accessibility for all digital content. There are free application tools on-line one can utilize to determine if a site is compliant to these standards.
What are some of the challenges companies face in implementing digital accessibility?
Like most things, it comes down to priorities. In any business, there are numerous priorities and things to accomplish. Digital accessibility is something that many companies have on the list, but often it comes down to leadership making it higher on the priority list. Some leaders feel it to be mandatory and immediate, and some are comfortable with digital accessibility as a longer term goal.
What's important for corporate leaders to understand is that digital accessibility is not just for customers. Providing access to internal digital materials for their employees is very important for companies. There are many internal use cases as well that can improve efficiency, such as access to work-related documents, paystubs, insurance information and other HR items.
Is there a mindset shift that web developers should be adopting?
Every computer information systems (CIS) class in every university should inject curriculum changes to include coding for accessibility training, so that developers come out of school ready and prepared to make this part of how they develop and code digital content.
Secondly, if you're you're building a new site, you should get ahead of the curve by implementing accessibility features. That's not to say you should feel bad about your current site, but when building a new site incorporating accessibility into it should be part of the maturation process.
Are you leading an initiative in that area?
We're talking to some of the leading universities on this issue and have made some great progress. There are a few that are out front, and one that has an actual dedicated office that focuses on digital accessibility.
The issue is gaining awareness, several lawsuits have been filed against universities for not having accessible content. K-12 schools face the same issues. All students or faculty who utilize digital content should be on a "level learning field" as anyone else.
Any future predictions for the industry?
In the next few years, digital content will be consumed in new and different ways. The user experience will have to improve and become more personalized and unique to attract customers. Most everyone understands that the need to enhance their digital content is mandatory. In the future, online brand sites will live and die by the user experience they offer. And part of that the experience must be equal and accommodating for all users, including the large population with a disability.
That's why we've invested so much in AudioEye's capabilities, to ensure that user experience actually considers all users. More than ever, it is important to make your digital content accessible for everyone who wants to consume it. This is why our tagline is "More accessible, More usable, for More people".