Today, digital transformation is at the heart of how an organization uses technology to deliver value to its customers. While digital transformation has been a key strategic driver in the pre-pandemic world, digital disruption has permanently changed many aspects of our lives in the wake of COVID-19. A simple proof would be the operational shifts in the medical industry. ‘Telemedicine’ is now a household word. People prefer telemedicine over physical visits even after the pandemic because of its convenience and other benefits. Bank visits have become infrequent, and Artificial Intelligence and chatbots have mostly taken over customer service.
Digital transformation has effectively helped us bridge the gap of social distancing.
However, digital transformation efforts often suffer from a lack of vision. Take the example of the approach adopted for the marketing of services. The main focus for organizations and designers when promoting businesses through the web, applications, or software is on the look and feel, optimization across devices, and user-friendliness of the end product. However, this approach is far from inclusive, as it often overlooks digital accessibility.
What is digital accessibility?
According to the United Nations (UN), access to communication and information is a fundamental human right. Digital accessibility is all about ensuring access to digital products for all, irrespective of their abilities and impairments.
As products and services get increasingly digitized, businesses must incorporate digital accessibility as an essential consideration in all aspects of decision making. Digital accessibility is about tapping into a more extensive customer base and providing equitable support and a conducive work environment to the employee base. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential drivers in today’s global economy. Organizations are starting to think and strategize inclusively.
The challenges and opportunities of digital accessibility
Digital accessibility is the route to the proverbial round table – a level playing field with representation across demographics. And an inclusive world means opportunities for all in education, employment, services, healthcare, information, and much more. With the boost of social media, digital accessibility also means more independence – of choice and finance and access to community and social well-being.
There are quite a few challenges to creating digital accessibility. Some of the more important ones are:
- Lack of awareness and basic knowledge of the needs of the diverse audience.
- Web toolkits and content authoring tools are available easily. While these are user-friendly and reduce the hassle of technical know-how, how much accessibility these tools ensure is suspect.
- Willingness to take extra steps to do more than be just compliant. Digital accessibility should be more than just a checkbox activity.
- Inclusion, diversity, and equity are still aspirational for many organizations, and the road to digital accessibility is not clear.
Does digital accessibility have a genuine business case?
Governments across the globe are implementing several regulations around accessibility standards. Organizations and businesses have started to view digital accessibility seriously as this has become a regulatory and compliance need. In the process, they are also waking up to several other advantages like an increased footprint, creating sustained brand equity, and improving customer experience and in-house staff productivity.
The four main views driving the business case for digital accessibility include:
- Removing barriers and driving innovation through enhanced design, various ways for users to interact with the interface/program, delivering a more intuitive user experience, and discovering new research and development opportunities.
- Creating a responsible brand image by combining inclusivity and accessibility agenda in an organization’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) agenda and giving back to the community.
- The people with disabilities market is virtually untapped. There is a significant opportunity for businesses with the right vision and strategy. Additionally, implementing digital accessibility standards improves customer experience, increasing customer loyalty.
- Today, digital interaction is an essential part of the fabric of everyday life, hence being compliant is not an option for organizations but is a societal mandate. Non-compliance has a severe risk of financial and reputational loss; future-focused businesses are investing in their services and technologies being digitally accessible.
Accessibility principles and standards
Four simple principles define accessibility standards – perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For a service or product to be digitally accessible, it must be:
- Perceivable through the use of sight, touch, or hearing
- Operable by the use of a mouse or keyboard
- Understandable easily
- Robust and work across devices, old and new technologies, browsers, and several digital touchpoints
Over and above, there are defined standards regarding readability, alternative text, navigation, data tables, font, colors, links, forms, buttons, documents, multimedia, and more.
Normalizing digital accessibility
Impairment and abilities are all about the correct match. Just as we wouldn’t label a fish as ‘impaired’ for its inability to fly, we need to reframe our ideas of disability for our fellow citizens. Disability is the outcome of a failure to match a person to their environment, which is true of all humans. All people have varying impairments, from temporary and situational to permanent. The idea is to create a nurturing and conducive environment for all so that maximum people can benefit from it. Similarly, making technology accessible to all would allow greater reach and the greater good.
Driving diversity and inclusion using digital accessibility
Building an inclusive culture is the need of the hour. Due to the indirect but sustained effects of the pandemic, mental health issues have multiplied. Today we have a more significant population who suffer from disabilities. Businesses must build products and services, keeping this in mind. Building a more inclusive and accessible culture can help us tackle societal issues and create sustainable change. At a recent event, senior leaders from leading global organizations discussed the issue of ‘empowering people through digital inclusion‘. Key takeaways included:
- promoting empathy for both the clientele and in-house staff
- leading with the passion for creating lasting change
- making technology and its use more human-centered
- embracing the new ways of working that are evolving
- keeping the conversation going to ensure continued focus
Why is accessibility becoming important in learning?
With schools shutting down for the pandemic, accessibility in learning has assumed critical importance. As education was one of the most impacted areas, the rise of Edtech with the promise of easy access to learning for all was one of the most outstanding achievements of 2020. Leveraging the latest technologies, Edtech firms offer novel features and learning techniques that make education more accessible to students with physical and sensory impairments.
Additionally, the way we learn has changed radically over the years. Continuing education no longer requires a career break and can be done at one’s own time and pace. Education is now independent of time and location. Emerging technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and AI improve accessibility for pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities.
AR and VR are helping make the entire learning space immersive. Such experiences are beneficial for neurodiverse learners who can engage with the learning platform. Higher engagement rates improve children’s knowledge retention and skill development across the spectrum.
Ways to Embrace Accessibility in a Digital Strategy
Today, any digital strategy is incomplete without a conversation about accessibility. Digital provides a potent medium to overcome the barriers of traditional media. Hence, building accessibility into an organization’s digital strategy is the way forward. Some simple ways to ensure it includes:
- Introducing digital accessibility as an indispensable aspect of an organization’s digital strategy at the planning stage itself.
- Setting measurable performance indicators and creating inclusive personas for digital accessibility testing.
- Investing in appropriate education around accessibility to ensure product teams understand the scope and audience needs during the planning and developmental phases.
- Understanding the regulatory and accessibility standards, both globally and locally, ensures compliance.
The power of advancing technology is today impacting people’s everyday lives. This change is irreversible and will only assume greater significance in the future. And in the journey to create an inclusive global culture, digital will continue to play a dominant role.
Digital accessibility opens businesses up to newer audiences that were unexplored before. But conversations and strategies around accessibility are much more than business outcomes. It is an ethical business practice. Today, adopting digital accessibility is the best way to be future-forward.