What is Digital Accessibility?

Being able to access the web means having access to the modern economy, crucial social spaces, and, of course, vast information. Conversely, not having equal access to the web means not being able to participate in society fully. Unfortunately, reduced access is the reality for many people with disabilities who cannot always navigate the web as efficiently or effectively due to a lack of consideration for their technology design needs. (Interfaces not designed with the visually impaired in mind, for example, can be frustrating at best and impossible at worst to use.) However, there is a growing awareness around this issue, and efforts by such groups as W3C WAI, which has established web accessibility guidelines, have led the way. 

To contribute to this vital effort, all who create web content should educate themselves about how to make it as accessible as possible. Reviewing W3C’s Essential Components of Web Accessibility (or see the full guidelines) is an excellent place to start learning. The University of Iowa has a free Accessibility 101 course, which provides helpful instruction on accessibility principles. Web browser extensions, of which there are many, can be used for usability testing. (Usability testing is crucial when designing websites for people with disabilities.) The BC Libraries Digital Scholarship Group recently added an accessibility section to the DS Handbook, containing a growing list of accessibility-oriented resources for digital scholarship project creation. Finally, one helpful set of standards to keep in mind for designing accessible content is POUR:

  • Perceivable: This refers to the users ability to identify content based on their own senses. For many, this may mean using predominantly visual cues, while for others it may mean using none. Alternative text for images, as well as emerging technologies that may include cues for smell and taste are great examples proactive “perceivable” technology.
  • Operable: A user must be able to successfully navigate and interact based on the tools provided – sometimes this could mean the exclusive use of a keyboard instead of a mouse, or allowing for voice commands when working through an interface.
  • Understandable: All users should be able to comprehend the content they are viewing. Presentation and design should be predictable in its layout and design, color choices and patterns should work to improve overall flow and make the interface more comprehensible. Right now, the push for Universal Design would create a consistent style for websites, which could make online interfaces much more consistent and navigable based on the common use.
  • Robust: Websites ought to provide every option to individuals who want to view their content via their necessary means. Making sure that alternative inputs, such as voice commands are acceptable, and that the site can be run on a variety of browsers that may provide specific accessibility related plug-ins.

As you create content online; think about how it can be used, perceived, and understood as a resource for folks who might gather information through a variety of different means, methods, and senses.