Equally AI CEO Commentary: Why Technology is the Great Digital Democratizer

By Ran Ronen, Equally AI

According to a March 2021 Pew Research Center survey, more than 80 percent of US adults use the internet at least once a day. Incredibly, the survey found that nearly three-in-ten people say that they are online “almost constantly,” a startling reality that reflects the centrality of internet access in the digital age.

This monumental shift has impacted everything from shopping to advertising trends, allowing companies and consumers to operate with the world at their fingertips.

However, for the 1.3 billion people with disabilities, including more than 36 million blind people, web accessibility is an aspiration, not a reality. It’s estimated that 98 percent of websites aren’t fully accessible, creating a significant digital divide that’s harming people and businesses. In response, digital platforms – and the advertising initiatives that support their growth, development, and sustainability – need to understand the case for accessibility while taking practical steps to improve their operations moving forward.

The Case for Accessibility

There are several reasons that digital platforms and advertisers should care about web accessibility. For starters, there are legal and regulatory ramifications for failing to accommodate all people. Specifically, companies have a responsibility to follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that promote equitable web development.

Even where specific legislation is lacking, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 should serve as a precursor for action. The law, which made physical spaces more accessible through required accommodations, has clear implications for a digital-first world and has served as the basis for a deluge of related lawsuits. According to The National Law Review, “U.S. companies have been inundated with lawsuits in the past several years alleging that their websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and various state laws, including the California Unruh Act. Plaintiffs claim that the websites do not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) created by the nonprofit World Wide Web Consortium because visually impaired consumers allegedly cannot access the sites using screen-reader software.”

Of course, the threat of litigation isn’t the only reason that digital platforms and marketers should care about accessibility.

Disabled people represent an expansive customer base, creating the significant market potential for companies willing to make digital content accessible. At the same time, customers recognize when brands create accessible content, which drives bottom-line outcomes through increased customer retention and brand loyalty.

Most importantly, web accessibility is a matter of conscience. The internet can be a great democratizer, providing everyone an opportunity to participate in this burgeoning ecosystem. However, when brands fail to implement accessibility solutions, technology in general and internet access specifically become our greatest divider, prohibiting millions of people from realizing their full potential and contributing to everyone’s collective gain.

How Marketers Can Respond

Marketers looking to enhance their digital products and companies striving to reach a broader audience can look to web accessibility as a readily available frontier for development. For marketers looking to optimize their digital products for accessibility, here are four steps to get started now.

#1 Know the Landscape

Not all accessibility solutions are created the same. In general, companies are choosing between manual, automated, and hybrid solutions, and different organizations will have unique operational requirements that dictate their selection.

Today’s expansive product ecosystems offer several compelling solutions. However, businesses should avoid free software solutions. While the near-term costs are advantageous, the long-term, real-life experience for disabled people can be worse than the original problem. Avoid implementing a solution just for the sake of it. Know the landscape, and determine the best fit for your business.

#2 Pick a Goal (and Measure It)

What gets measured gets done, so we must choose these metrics wisely. Determine the most pressing accessibility hurdles, and establish clear milestones to make improvements. Moreover, set internal goals, including:

  • requiring content creators to use alt text in images
  • instructing developers to implement semantic HTML and ARIA labeling
  • implementing specific progress checkpoints.

These timelines will look different for every company, but leaders should be sure to monitor legislative and regulatory developments that could impact project timelines.

#3 Commit Financial & Personnel Resources

Creating more accessible digital content has immense ROI, but it will require resources to make forward progress. Establish budget constraints, and devise implementation strategies, including reviews, training, audits, and testing to ensure effective implementation.

Understand the project scope and allocate resources accordingly. Consider the following inquiry questions to determine your guidelines:

  • How frequently and comprehensively should accessibility evaluations be conducted?
  • What opportunities are available to include people with disabilities?
  • What content needs to be adapted or replaced, and what authoring tools will be used?
  • How extensively will staff training impact overall cost?

Answer these questions will help determine budget requirements, helping accessibility goals become realities.

#4 Change with the Technology

The internet is a continually evolving ecosystem, and new technologies will require new accessibility accommodations. To minimize disruption, identify the long-term technologies that require ongoing support and improvement. This might include web browsers, assistive technologies, and authoring tools.

Maximize a digital product’s accessibility by regularly reviewing content for needed changes and improvements. Assess your progress, recognizing growth and improvement while continually planning for the future.

Web accessibility won’t happen by accident, and now is the right time to begin investing in this priority. The recent pandemic was a reminder that digital accessibility is more than a matter of convenience. It’s an essential function that allows all people to flourish, and it’s something that digital platforms and advertisers need to give attention to today.

Author Bio:

Ran Ronen is Founder and CEO of Equally AI, a world-class, secured, convenient, and modern web accessibility experience for beneficiaries and businesses.