The Current State of Digital Accessibility in the U.S.

Website Design & Development

Read Time: 7 Min

What does it mean to have an accessible website?

The simple answer? A website developed to be easily used and navigated by all people, including those with disabilities. Over the years, we’ve seen an increase in awareness for digital accessibility, but it didn’t always used to be top priority. In fact, even today, the current state of digital accessibility is a mixed one.

At AOR, we believe wholeheartedly in accessibility and inclusion. The digital world is for everyone, so it’s our responsibility as business owners, developers, agency creatives, and so on, to dedicate some of our energy toward maintaining accessibility standards in web design and digital content.

Let’s chat a bit more about this. It’s too important not to.


The Current State

Where We Are Now

While there have been significant improvements in recent years, many websites and pieces of digital content have fallen behind. Despite the digital world not quite reaching its full potential as far as accessibility goes, the awareness is there, and the understanding of its importance. We’ve seen many organizations making an effort to improve the accessibility of their digital content, and not just because it’s the law, but because they care.

Despite looking out for the interest of the entire population being the number one reason to make your digital content accessible, it’s also become standard practice. In fact, the digital space has made a lot of progress over the last several years developing accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which provide guidelines for making digital content accessible to people with disabilities.

Challenges That Lay Ahead

However, there are still many challenges we’ve yet to overcome. Accessibility is far from being top priority for many organizations. In those cases, it comes down to a lack of awareness and lack of interest, which can lead to a lack of investment in accessibility initiatives.

Now, with increasingly new technologies, the challenges keep on coming. As technology continues to evolve, with additions such as virtual reality and chatbots, it’s more important than ever to continue developing and refining accessibility standards and best practices. In fact, the evolution of technology is far from slowing down, so even as we continue into the future, those addressing accessibility standards should stay nimble and be prepared for anything that comes their way.

Overall, while there have been many positive developments in digital accessibility over the years, there’s still much work to be done in order to ensure the digital world is accessible to all users.

Accessibility Impact on People

Beyond the fact that it’s becoming standard practice and is required by law, accessibility is important because it has a significant impact on people’s daily lives. We dare you to say you could live without the internet….I bet you can’t, can you? The internet is such an integral part of modern society, it’s hard to imagine a life without it. From ordering food to booking flights, managing finances to working, it’s mostly unavoidable. Imagine being unable to do those things because of inaccessibility. Many people with disabilities face significant barriers when trying to access and use websites — navigation, transactions, readability, etc.

As society becomes more aware of the importance of inclusion and equal access, there is an expectation that businesses will provide accessible websites to decrease the instances of those barriers for the disabled community. In many countries, as we’ve mentioned, there are laws. In the U.S. we are expected to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ensure that the websites we design and develop and the ads we run and the designs we create all follow ADA guidelines.

Website accessibility not only benefits people with disabilities but also provides a better user experience for everyone. Let’s say you were designing a website for an organization you knew had a large audience of people who are visually impaired. By creating a website that is easy to read and has clear navigation and other auditory tools, you are not only benefiting people with visual impairments but also users who may be in a noisy environment or on a small mobile device.

Website accessibility ensures that everyone can access and use websites equally, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. It also reflects well on your organization or business. It shows you are committed to inclusion and creating an equal society for all. At AOR, we’ve dedicated a large portion of our time to Thrive initiatives. We make it a point to learn more about and implement procedures at our company in regard to diversity and inclusion. It’s our goal to be better at our jobs and more inclusive of everyone.


Current U.S. Laws & Guidelines

  1. Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) — The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and applies to all public entities, including websites and digital content.
  2. Section 508 — Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that their electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.
  3. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG— The WCAG is a set of guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make web content more accessible. These guidelines provide technical standards for web developers and designers to follow ensuring that web content is accessible to people with disabilities.

Failure to comply with these laws can result in legal action and financial penalties, but that’s beside the point. The point is to care. The point is to want to make the digital world accessible for all, that’s the goal.


Why It’s Important

  1. Ethical Responsibility — First and foremost, it should be our priority to ensure digital accessibility for all our users because we care. By implementing digital accessibility so that all content is accessible to people with disabilities, organizations are meeting an essential aspect of their social responsibility.
  2. Inclusivity and Diversity — By making your website and digital content accessible, you’ll naturally be promoting inclusivity and diversity.
  3. Legal Compliance — By complying with the above laws and guidelines, organizations and businesses can avoid potential legal issues and ensure they are meeting their obligations under the law.
  4. Business Benefits — Accessibility in the digital world also allows you as a business to reach a wider audience and improve your reputation within your industry.
  5. Technological Advancement — Digital accessibility also promotes technological advancement by encouraging the development of new tools and technologies that make digital content more accessible to people with disabilities.

Complying with digital accessibility laws is important because it ensures you’re adhering to your ethical responsibilities, inclusivity, and diversity, it ensures legal compliance and promotes business benefits and technological advancements.


Industries Impacted

Retail, hospitality, and financial services are some of the industries most under a microscope when it comes to digital accessibility. Oftentimes they are the ones who find themselves facing lawsuits as the world is still adjusting to accessibility laws and guidelines. This is probably because these industries typically rely heavily on websites and mobile apps to provide their products and services to customers. Without proper access, people with disabilities will experience significant barriers trying to utilize services in these industries.

Educational institutions and government agencies are also under close watch since they are required to comply with accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (AD) and other federal regulations.

Despite these industries being under closer watch, any industry that provides digital content or services to the public is at risk of being impacted by digital accessibility lawsuits if they fail to follow guidelines and laws. It’s important to stay proactive. Again, not only because of accessibility laws but because of ethical responsibilities as well.

Accessibility for Human Good

If you take anything away from this insight and the series that will follow, it’s this: Everyone deserves the internet. Everyone deserves to benefit from your digital services. Everyone deserves to feel seen, heard, and understood online. It’s accessibility, and it’s important.

AOR takes web and digital accessibility very seriously, and we implement it in every step of our process, whether it’s web development, branding, or digital marketing. If you have more questions or want to know how AOR can help you prioritize accessibility, give us a shout.

Take a look at some of our work. You should be able to see how accessibility has played a role every step of the way.

And remember, although accessibility is a standard and a law, you should do it because it’s just, fair and because you care.

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