What Is Digital Accessibility and Why You Should Care

Digital accessibility is the practice of designing a product to be used by all kinds of people.

"All kinds of people"does not only mean people with disabilities, including those who are visual, auditory, speech, physical, cognitive, or neurological. The term also refers to age-related limitations (users grow older), health conditions, or temporary impairments (the healthiest person may get a gym injury and be forced to use the mouse with a hand that isn't dominant). Even tired eyes after a long workday or situational limitations such as a slow Internet connection, which is common in some countries, need accessible solutions.

As Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web once said:

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Usability and Accessibility

Although both fall under the user experience umbrella, accessibility and usability are not the same things.

For people with disabilities, accessibility means designing universal products and providing an equivalent user experience. The main objective is to provide products that can be used by anyone, no matter their chronic or temporary limitations.

On the other hand, usability refers to designing products in a way that will be effective, efficient, and user-friendly. Rather than addressing the needs of people with disabilities, in particular, it focuses on making an item easier to use.


What Digital Accessibility Looks Like: Standards and Guidelines

In order to provide a single shared standard for digital accessibility that meets the needs of individuals across the globe, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has promoted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Born over 20 years ago, the WCAG outlines in detail how to make web content accessible to people with disabilities, and has been developed in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world. It is also widely used as a standard for accessibility laws and regulations.

An ISO norm (ISO/IEC 40500:2012) was also established as a guiding principle and a way to spread best practices across the web. When it comes to accessibility, joint efforts like these are critical to ensure that the interaction for differently-abled users is done according to best practices everywhere and that designers and developers can learn how to implement them properly.

Some governments (the U.S. have ADA or sections 504/508 of the Rehabilitation Act) are also taking this seriously and getting more effective at creating regulations and guidelines that ensure the digital space provides equal opportunities for everyone.

WCAG Evolution: The State of Digital Accessibility


Back in 2008, WCAG 2.0 was released containing guidelines to adapt to the fast-growing world of technology. Ten years later, WCAG 2.1 came out with new guidelines focused more on mobile devices.

Version 2.2 should be out by September 2022 and will include things like accessible authentication and dragging.

A fun fact was that, when WCAG 2.1 was released, the World Wide Web consortium also released Project Silver, known as WCAG 3.0, which includes standards for emerging technologies like the Internet of Things. This document is being developed to ensure that everyone has access to everything, including the latest technology.

Why Should You Care About Digital Accessibility?

Over the past few years, digital accessibility has received increased attention, with more countries adopting laws and regulations to ensure that applications are accessible to those with disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought it even further into the public eye.

Today, digital touchpoints are replacing traditional brick-and-mortar stores and telephone interactions with your customers, employees, and partners more than ever before. They allow companies to be more efficient and agile when delivering new products and services while allowing users to meet their needs at a time and place that's convenient to them.

As you create applications, you give customers access to digital spaces, creating new ways to communicate and receive information. But if you make it difficult for people to reach or interact with those spaces, you're limiting your impact.

An accessible digital product brings a positive return on investment that far exceeds the cost of implementation and ultimately benefits the business.

You may, among other things, benefit from increased website traffic because you are reaching a broader set of users (think of an e-commerce site or enterprise application) or from increased online sales due to greater ease of use. Having apps that are accessible makes them easier to use and more user-friendly for everyone. All of this is true even if you are just making an app for your employees.

As websites or applications are developed to reduce costs associated with traditional communication channels, like customer service or traditional government bureaucracy, accessibility also plays an important role. Added accessibility to apps further reduces the need for customer service agents and paper interactions.

Is that it when it comes to accessibility benefits? Not at all. Accessible apps also improve your search engine optimization (SEO) rankings, as well as make your company's brand image more positive as corporate social responsibility has never been more important.

When to Care About Accessibility?

You should design for accessibility from the very start.

Different types of users benefit from making the web accessible. In today's digital world, it is important to put user experience at the center. With UX becoming a global buzzword and UX designers finally being included in the conversation users first, you need to keep track of all users’ needs and demands, capabilities, and abilities, preferences, and situations.

As a result, you should provide them with all kinds of assistance, such as screen readers (or any other assistive technology), and keyboard navigation help. The goal is to enable seamless digital interactions between people, products, information, and entertainment without limitations, barriers, or constraints. This is something you should do at the beginning of a project to minimize the costs of fixing it later.


If you want to learn more about how to ensure you’re building accessible, universal apps that comply with the highest standards and guidelines, watch the Tech Talk, How to Speed Up Development of Accessible Apps.