Accessibility means the ability to obtain, access, use, reach, and understand places, products, information, and more. Digital accessibility specifically addresses users’ equitable access to digital technology and digital content. Much as ramps provide accessibility to buildings for individuals using wheelchairs or for other individuals for whom stairs present difficulty, digital designs, such as providing transcripts with audio podcasts, provide greater access to digital users.
Universal Design is one way to approach accessibility. In Universal Design, implementations focus on benefiting users with a range of abilities. One example of Universal Design is the use of sidewalk curb cutouts, or sections of the curb that are at the same height as the road, walkway, etc. Such a design features helps not only individuals who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, but also individuals who may be pulling a wheeled suitcase, using a baby stroller, or pushing a cart.
Digital Universal Design means that including closed captions for videos benefits users who may have hearing impairments as well as users who may want to watch the video without sound being audible.
United States law requires accessibility. Companies and providers must legally meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates, among other laws pertaining to accessibility. While individuals creating content for personal use may not be required to support accessibility by law, a digital ethics approach to digital communication encompasses supporting accessibility. The year 2020 marks 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Relationships between Digital Technologies and Accessibility Tools
Digital technologies may serve as accessibility tools to non-digital technologies. Many digital accessibility tools have become mainstream technologies, as Mukta Kulkarni (2019) explains:
“For example, the widely used speech technology (e.g., hearing driving directions in cars or search results on smartphones) was birthed from Dr. Raymond Kurzweil’s decision to create a reading machine for the blind. E-books that we listen to today were birthed from George Kerscher’s frustration that he, as a blind man, could not access information. Captioned video which helps us follow a movie via subtitles in noisy places or helps us learn new languages was created for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. As a final example, speech recognition or voice recognition technology, be it Microsoft’s Cortana or Apple’s Siri, or interactive voice response systems we use to book hotel rooms or air tickets have been used by persons with disabilities for over thirty years (Lazar et al., 2015).”
Note: This module is an introduction to digital accessibility and is not intended to be a comprehensive or definitive discussion of digital accessibility.
- Explore design issues around accessibility in digital technology and content.
- Learn about creating digital content using accessibility principles and practices.
- Think critically about the relationships between accessibility, users, and digital technologies.
Kulkarni, M. (2019). Digital accessibility: Challenges and opportunities. IIMB Management Review, 31(1), 91-98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iimb.2018.05.009
Lazar, J., Goldstein, D. F., & Taylor, A. (2015). Ensuring digital accessibility through process and policy.
- “Accessibility Basics” by Usability.gov.
- Introduction to Web Accessibility: Web Accessibility Initiativeby W3C.
- W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelinesby W3C.
- “The Principles of Universal Design” from NCSU.
- “A Guide to Understanding What Makes a Typeface Accessible: And how to make more informed design decisions.”
- “Accessible Fonts.”
- “Why You Should Add Alt Tags to Twitter Images”by David Murphy of Lifehacker.
- “Ravelry’s New Look: a Check-in.”
- “Accessibility Finally Matters to the Game Industry — But It Needs to Do Better.”
- “The Universal Page” – 99% Invisible
- Create digitally accessible content. Consider documenting digital accessibility and post that content on your social media or your domain.
- Identify aspects of digital accessibility you can support in your own practices.
- Learn how a PDF can read to users. Research PDF accessibility in Adobe Reader.
- Learn about and apply an understanding of color contrast, to create accessible Word documents and PowerPoints, PDFs, hyperlinks, and effective Alternative Text (Alt Text).
- Identify strategies for ensuring your writing is accessible to people with disabilities by learning about Document Design.
- Learn how to create PDFs that are accessible.
- Research and use speech-to-text features, such as on Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or other word processors. Or, use Read Aloud features, for example, to listen to a Microsoft Word document.
Browsers and Devices:
- Investigate the accessibility settings on your own phone, computer, tablet: Android, iPhone, Mac, etc.
- Learn about accessibility features in your browser: Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, etc.
- Learn about and create Alternative Text tags for images, such as on Instagram, Twitter, etc.
- Create closed captions for a YouTube video.
- Check how accessible a web page (such as your domain) is by generating an accessibility report using the WAVE tool.
- Learn about and practice turning visual images into sounds to support accessibility.
- Research how different technology companies address accessibility: Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, etc.
- Consider how you might support digital accessibility in the future, whether on the job or in other occasions when you might create content.
- Research Video Game Accessibility (loc.gov).
- Consider accessibility issues in games you and/or your friends play.