Digital technology—the tools, systems, and devices that we use to work, communicate, and manage our day-to-day lives — has made life more comfortable. It was also supposed to blur the lines of race, gender, age, and ability, but technology has more work to do to become truly inclusive. Consider the issue of accessible technology for those with disabilities.
About 15 percent of people in the world have a disability, as reported in a recent CNET article. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that about 1 in 4 Americans have a disability. Of those affected by disability in the United States, nearly 5 percent are blind or have severe visual impairment, and almost 6 percent are deaf or have severe hearing impairment. Others have difficulty with speech, mobility, or cognition; mental disabilities; or difficulties with self-care and independent living.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) focuses on improving accessibility for these individuals. While integrating technology accessibility into IT is a legal requirement, more importantly, providing equal access for all is the right thing to do. And with millions around the world under stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that those with disabilities have equal access to the technologies that help us work and communicate is imperative.
Reasons for Building Accessibility Into Technology
Ensuring that technology is accessible to everyone should be a high ethical priority for IT leaders. Below are some of the reasons why IT managers should make technology accessibility an imperative in their organizations.
Compliance With Accessible Technology Laws
Access to technology and communications is a civil right, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Title II and Title III of the ADA require websites, software, and other technologies to be accessible. However, a WebAIM Million study revealed that a vast majority of top websites present accessibility issues, as reported on VentureBeat. The article also cites 2,285 federal lawsuits related to ADA web accessibility in 2018, resulting in millions of dollars in fines.
Business Benefits of Technology Accessibility
Noncompliance can result in financial loss, but organizations that maximize accessibility also have a lot to gain. Building products with technology accessibility in mind gives businesses access to larger markets. For example, the spending power of working-age people with disabilities in the U.S. alone is $490 billion, according to VentureBeat. Additionally, employees with disabilities are more productive when they can access technology that allows them to excel. By implementing accessible technology, IT leaders help retain top talent, strengthen the bottom line, and enhance the organization or business’s public image.
Improved User Experience
Among the most important trends in technology is the concept of user experience (UX), which focuses on improving technology’s effectiveness and ease of use. It is not a new concept. Assistive technology such as Siri has roots in projects funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that focused on improving technology accessibility for individuals with disabilities as far back as 2003. Today, technology accessibility is fundamental for ensuring a positive user experience.
Advocating for Accessible Technology
While accessible technology makes sense from legal and business standpoints, it also helps to promote a more inclusive society that benefits all. The lack of accessibility denies full digital experiences to people with disabilities, reinforcing societal inequity. Building accessibility into technology and advocating for accessible technology programs in organizations can help lead to a more just world.
What Makes Technology Accessible?
Borrowing from the UX concept of universal design, more companies are developing technology products that consider everyone’s needs. Take, for example, a common web browser feature: the ability to zoom in on an image or text. This functionality enables more people, including those with visual disabilities, to access information on mobile devices and laptops.
Another feature that makes technology more accessible is text-to-speech (TTS) software, which reads written content aloud. The content must be formatted in a way that allows the software to turn it into speech, so websites must provide alternate text that clearly describes images and videos for the software to read. Accessible technology also provides alternative ways for people with disabilities to control keyboard functions.
Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have increasingly focused on making their technology products and services more accessible for people with disabilities. Assistive technology in Apple’s iPhone XR helps visually impaired users send emails, check their calendars, and use maps. In another example, a Google-backed project explores the use of web and AI technology to create accessible tools for drawing and music composition. The effort brings together IT leaders, engineers, designers, artists, and educators.
Preparing Ethics-Minded IT Leaders
Integrating accessible technology into IT best practices is critical for organizations interested in creating a more equitable society. Those seeking to address accessibility challenges head-on will benefit from the Tulane University School of Professional Advancement’s Online Master of Professional Studies in Information Technology Management. Courses such as Application Development Foundations introduce students to problem analysis, algorithm design, and solution implementation to help them develop creative technology application solutions that meet all users’ needs. Discover how you can expand your career opportunities and make an impact on millions of lives today.
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AccessibleTech, “Accessible Technology”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Disability Impacts All of Us"
CNET, “Accessibility Tech Has a Lot of Unfinished Business to Get Right”
Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, “Technological Accessibility”
Google, “Making Creative Tools More Accessible for Everyone”
Medium, “Why Accessibility Is the Future of Tech”
Medium, “Why Web Accessibility Is Important and How You Can Accomplish It”
Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology, "Get Started: Why Accessible Technology Matters"
Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology, "How Is the Department of Justice Addressing Website and ICT Accessibility?"
VentureBeat, “Accessibility Is an Opportunity, Not a Burden”
W3C, "Introduction to Web Accessibility"