Why PR must act now to get Digital Accessibility right

Welcome to the second half of the 21st century.

The date is May 16th 2050.

EVERYONE in the UK can easily access every digital and web-based service and product.

No matter what disability, impairment or long-term health condition they have.

That’s my dream.

But let’s get back to present day.

It’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) 2019 today.

The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and inclusion, plus people with different disabilities.

It’s the ideal moment to consider why digital accessibility and inclusion matters SO MUCH for PR and communications professionals.

Let’s talk about disability and digital

Here are some of the facts:

  • 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability
  • One in five people in the UK have a disability
  • We are living longer and the UK has an ageing population
  • The older we get the more likely we are to acquire a disability, as most disabilities are acquired with age
  • 19% of working age adults are in the UK disabled
  • 2 million people in the UK have sight loss
  • 11 million people in the UK have hearing loss (including me)
  • 10-15% of people in the UK have dyslexia

But how does digital and social media and the web work for people with disabilities?

Often, not very well.

Let’s look at some of the evidence.

But before we do, it’s important to note that to make websites and digital media like apps accessible, they should conform to the principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) AA level.

As the name suggests, these are guidelines, not standards.

But if you follow them to a minimum level of AA (AAA is the maximum level, A is the lowest), your website and digital media will be pretty accessible for people with disabilities.

Now back to the evidence.

The numbers don’t lie

WebAIM’s recent web accessibility testing of 1 million websites shows how inaccessible the majority of digital media and websites are.

The study looked at the home pages of one million websites across the world and analysed how accessible they are.

The study showed that a whopping 85.3% (852,868) of websites analysed didn’t meet World Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) because of low contrast text and background colour.

Whilst 68% (679,964) had missing alternative text for images (aka alt text tags), which are essential for people with low vision/no vision who use screen readers.

Let’s think about what that means.

Of the two million people in the UK who have sight loss (and this number is set to grow because of our aging population), many or all of them won’t be access the websites analysed.

Not only will those with low vision be unable to read text easily (or in fact at all).

Those people with very little or no vision will use a screen reader device to access the web.

But they won’t understand what the images (e.g. photos, inforgraphics) and graphics (e.g. logos) refer to, how they sit in the context of the information on a website, nor how they are supposed to help the reader by conveying meaning.

Accessibility is a legal requirement

It’s worth looking at the legal requirements for accessibility in this country.

Firstly, The Equality Act 2010 requires all organisations in the UK to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.

This includes ensuring people with disabilities can access information, products and services, regardless of their own personal circumstances.

Then there’s the rather revolutionary The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, which came into force in September 2018.

The regulations set new web and mobile app accessibility standards that public sector bodies must now follow.

A change would do you good

All this means that PR and communications professionals must act now to ensure your clients’/employers’ digital communications are accessible and inclusive.

Not only will this help you comply with the law, it will also open your clients’/employers’ products and services to new, growing market segments.

Here are some organisations that can help you on your journey:

  • AbilityNet – digital accessibility consultancy, training and user testing
  • World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – information about digital accessibility and WCAG 2.1 guidelines
  • Recite Me – cloud-based web accessibility software
  • Big Voice Communications – accessible and inclusive communications training, plus PR and marketing consultancy and support (disclaimer Big Voice Communications are a client of mine).

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Image courtesy of flickr user Steve Johnson

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