There is good news and bad news when it comes to digital equity and how organizations prep for making their digital assets accessible and usable to people who have disabilities. The good news is that many organizations are beginning to appreciate everything that goes into “baking” digital equity and authentic inclusion into their design and development processes. The bad news is that many corporations are taking a “half-baked” approach to the design and development of various digital platforms and assets.
There are a multitude of motivational factors that go into a company’s design and development process. The focus of any corporation is maintaining consumer satisfaction and market share. Making tech usable and functional is just good business sense, and including the disability consumer market, which is 3.6 billion people strong, also just makes good business sense.
The idealist in me wants to believe that corporate America is finally seeing the disability community as a valued market base, entitled to barrier-free access to their digitized product, offerings, and communications. Corporations need to recognize the significant opportunity that accessible and usable digital platforms mean for a company’s bottom line, revenue stream, and above all else reductions to risk and exposure. Including people of all abilities in your company’s deliverables impacts return on investment (ROI) positively, ensuring that competitive edge in our highly competitive markets. Of course, the impacts on brand identity and image are, as Mastercard would have us believe, priceless. I contend that the sooner corporate America can accept the untapped market of people who happen to have a disability as a valued group, the sooner they start to realize the benefits of including this contingent of people with over $8 trillion in discretionary spending power.
Addressing inclusion and digital equity continues to be considered as a simple checking of a proverbial box for minimal compliance with federal regulations and international best practices. Organizations focusing on checking that box often believe they are adhering to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as the WCAG. Yet if that were the case why has litigation been on a continual rise for over 20 years? Federal regulations require businesses to take the steps necessary to be accessible, inclusive, and embracing to everyone, regardless of Ability.
The realist in me knows that many are doing it because they do not want to risk litigation from individuals who are trying to find relief after their consumer complaints requesting vital, and often life-preserving changes go unanswered. Whatever the reason, organizations are finally looking at cost/benefit analysis and are coming to realize that addressing the digital inequities that are unintentionally baked into their digital offerings has a positive impact on bottom lines and brand image.
I still find myself becoming exasperated by organizations that choose to ignore the cost-effectiveness of “baking” universal and inclusive design into their development process. Yet nearly 80% of all corporations still attempt to introduce retrofit solutions to correct underlying digital barriers, instead of baking digital equity and accessibility into their design and development process from the beginning.
If we use our imagination to extend the metaphor: think about baking a cake. This cake, by law, is meant for everyone to enjoy. If some people are unable to enjoy the cake, then that is a huge problem. When development teams do not use the right “digital ingredients”, namely the critically important manual and automated testing solutions, we run the risk of “baking” a digital asset that does not work for those of us with a disability. I can assure you that poorly “baked” digital platforms that bar those of us with a disability from using them as seamlessly as our non-disabled peers leaves a very bad taste in our mouths.
Instead of remediating digital platforms to make them accessible and usable, ensuring attention to these things at the very beginning of the design and development process is paramount to a usable and functional product. Unfortunately, far too many corporations opt to instead correct digital violations and breaches by adding “ingredients” after the fact, which is never productive, efficient, or cost-effective. I will say it again to drive home my point, all of this can and should be avoided by simply “baking” all the appropriate digital codes into the design and development of all digital assets from the start.
In addition to the AccessAbility team at My Blind Spot, there are many organizations and industry peers that are available to assist and guide corporations on how best to deliver and ensure usable, functional, and accessible digital platforms. What distinguishes My Blind Spot from our industry peers is as simple as understanding that we promote authentic inclusion and digital equity. This goes well beyond selling our clients a widget or product in line with untold promises of compliance with federal regulations and international best practices. Some for-profit entities will claim that the only solution to your digital woes can be addressed by their automated tools and tech, with little consideration given to manual testing performed by stakeholders in the outcomes, people with a disability! Only employing computer software programs, widgets, or AI as an overlay on a digital platform rarely ensures compliance with the benchmarks and standards as set forth by the WCAG, which is the standard of measure for compliant digital offerings required here in the good old U.S. of A.
Then there are those magical programs that promise a completely accessible digital platform by simply using their software solutions. Far too many firms purport the ability to bring digital assets into an accessible and compliant platform when using what is commonly referred to as an overlay solution. In short, some firms promise their clients a digital asset that meets all federal regulations and standards. Yet, these firms, purportedly delivering compliant solutions are still seeing their clients sued for noncompliance with federal regulations. Why is that? Because the only way to make a digital platform accessible and compliant is to ensure it is usable and functional through the introduction of proper coding and programming into all digital offerings. Without taking into consideration manual testing coupled with automated testing, overlay solutions will only serve to give corporations a false sense of comfort and will in no way allow those offerings to meet the standards outlined by the WCAG. There are absolutely no such one-size-fits-all solutions on the market into the design and development process without including people with a disability in the redesign process. “Nothing about us without us” needs to be understood and appreciated as we all move intentionally to baking digital equity into all we do in this digital age we all live in.
Perhaps they envision that by putting this overlay or fancy widget in place and muttering some Latin incantation that suddenly, magically, everything thing will be fixed! The potential customers that have been excluded for all those years will suddenly have access. The websites and apps will be magically compliant, and the potential lawsuits will dissipate into the ether. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The legal landscape is littered with lawsuits by companies who were promised accessibility compliance, a minimal benchmark, as opposed to platforms that are also usable and functional.
Overlay software is not a cure-all solution and is more like a band-aid or temporary fix. Without incorporating proper coding practices and protocols, overlay programs such as AccessiBe, AudioEye, or any other overlay solution, only deliver minimal accessibility in areas of a digital platform that comply with certain regulations. They cannot, repeat CANNOT, ensure a digital asset is usable and functional to people who happen to have a disability. In a recent article offered up in Forbes, titled “Automation Can Speed Your Digital Accessibility Journey – But Know The Limits”, Dylan Barrell, the Chief Technology Officer at Deque Systems, points out the same thoughts I am expressing here. Additionally, Deque is one of those firms that is now embracing, with intention, the importance of both automated and manual testing as the best sure-fire way to bake digital equity and authentic inclusion into digital offerings like websites, mobile apps, electronic documents, and communication platforms.
This has always been our tried-and-true approach in all we do at My Blind Spot. The MBS AccessAbility team is comprised of certified accessibility experts who, because of a disability, were not able to gain access to many digital platforms. Time and again, they go onto a website that some automated testing software program says is “accessible” but in short, is not. Just because a platform is determined to be accessible because it complies minimally does not mean it is usable and functional. Nor does it mean the platform complies with federal regulations or the WCAG standards. All our clients, which include American Express, American Airlines, Intuit, 98.6, and many state agencies throughout New York include that all important ingredient and resource, human beings. Specifically, people with a disability.
This human-centric approach, relying on stakeholders in the outcomes to guide your company toward a usable and functional digital asset, ensures that your digital offerings not just meet minimal standards for accessibility, but in truth, allows them to exceed federal regulations and guidelines currently in place. People with a disability have been using workarounds to navigate the internet since there was an internet, making their guidance critical in developing solutions that allow them to enjoy digital offerings as seamlessly as their non-disabled peers and colleagues. It is simply smarter and more cost-effective to do it this way in the long run.
If your goal is a website that is usable and functional, and not just accessible, do what I suggest. If someone tells you that correcting issues at the core of your digital platform is not necessary and they have a digital solution that can cure what ails you, they are outright lying to you and are just trying to sell their products instead of building digital equity and authentic inclusion into your organizational structure.
If you would like to have the MBS AccessAbility team assess your digital platforms for usability and functionality as well as accessibility, please feel free to contact me at Albert@MyBlindSpot.org to investigate how we could work together on baking digital equity and authentic inclusion into your digital assets and offerings. We can serve as your consultants and help guide and qualify that you are working with reputable and highly qualified firms. Many of whom are trusted partners of ours focused on and committed to doing digital inclusion right.