Areas You Need To Address In Order To Achieve Digital Accessibility

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Digital technology should be available to everybody. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go before all digital technology is accessible to all people with disabilities. 

Technology can have a huge impact on the lives of people with disabilities. The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) is an organization that aims to increase the employment levels of people with disabilities by making digital accessibility a standard practice. In December 2020, they collected data that indicated a huge gap in employment levels. 33.2 Percent of adult job seekers with disabilities found employment, compared to 76.6 percent of job-seeking adults who did not have a disability. PEAT aims to change this by encouraging digital equality.

Everybody in tech should be doing the same thing. If technology is ever to be considered an equalizing – as opposed to an othering force – then accessibility has to be a top priority. Luckily there are plenty of technologies and practices out there that can help make digital technology available to all. Here are some of the areas you need to address if you want to make software, websites, and hardware accessible to people with disabilities. 

Contrast And Font Legibility

Keeping visually or cognitively impaired people in mind when addressing font use and contrast on any website or software is one of the simplest things you can do to help make your creation accessible. 

When it comes to typography, less is more. Using a bold, sans serif font will make your content far easier to read for people who have trouble tracking complex lines of text. This is one reason Times New Roman has fallen by the wayside in favor of Helvetica or Ebrima in web and software design. Font size can also be indicative of text hierarchy. This is very important. An understanding of text hierarchy is one way people make assumptions about the content of a sentence. Using font size and thickness to indicate whether a new subject is starting or highlighting an essential point within text makes it easier for people who struggle with large bodies of text. 

Contrast is also crucial. Bad modern web design contains text that blends into the background or overly complex animated background and foreground movements. Keep it simple and keep it contrasted. Even for people who are not visually impaired, a website that has poor contrast is tricky to read for any length of time. For people with any kind of visual impairment, it may well seem impossible to read. 

Accessible PDF files

PDF files are some of the most widely used in the professional world. Everything from invoices to research papers are presented in PDF regularly. Unfortunately, these files are not always very accessible. 

A great many PDF files are generated from scanned images. If you have ever tried to highlight text unsuccessfully in a PDF file, you would likely look at a scanned PDF. Scanned PDF files are essentially just images. Text-to-speech generators and braille readers will be unable to pick up on the content of the file, and a visually impaired user will therefore be completely unable to access it. An accessible PDF, on the other hand, has distinct formatting elements that help text to speech and braille reading software identify the words and images contained on it. 

Tagging and metadata are key to making a PDF document easy to interpret by accessibility software. Metadata is back-end information about a file that can be read. Tags are similar but are attached to specific elements like images and headers. 

Federally mandated standards apply to PDF documents released by public organizations. Although these standards do not technically apply to private businesses, judges frequently turn to these standards when arbitrating cases bought against companies who do not make their PDF files accessible to everybody. There are thousands of digital accessibility lawsuits bought to court in the United States every single year.  These standards are based on the web accessibility guidelines published by the W3A.  

Text To Speech

Text to speech software or web plugins can open up computer use to people who would otherwise find it impossible to access it without assistance. There are plenty of free text-to-speech software packages to choose from. The concept behind text-to-speech software is extremely simple. The software ‘reads’ text in an audio format. Good text-to-speech software will also analyze any metadata contained within a document or website so that it can more accurately intone or emote. 

Some text-to-speech software automatically strips all of the advertisements and extraneous texts away from a webpage before reading it aloud. This is extremely important: adverts can make a mess of otherwise coherent websites.  

Scalability

Websites and software applications need to be fully scalable if people with a wide range of abilities are to be expected to use them. Full scalability means that a website or application can be ‘zoomed in’ on without losing the quality of formatting that the website has at 100 percent size. If a site or application becomes a jumbled mess when a person increases its size, then it swiftly becomes a confusing and inaccessible place. Scalability should also apply to applications and websites when accessed via mobile devices. 

Alternative inputs And Outputs

Hardware considerations are also extremely important if digital technology is to be made available to all. Assisted hardware comes in many shapes and sizes. Voice to text software allows users to ‘type’ using their voice. Braille readers allow visually impaired people to read text. Head and eye movement sensors help people with limited limb mobility select and highlight things on the screen. These peripheral devices can make all the difference to people who would otherwise be left out of the digital world for no good reason. Companies should aim to invest in accessibility hardware in order to remove barriers that stop disabled people from reaching their potential and can help them feel more integrated and integral to a company or organization. This is just one step to make the workplace a more equal and fair environment. 

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