Digital accessibility, in simple terms, means ensuring accessibility of digital products and services to People with Disabilities (PwDs). This could be a website through which one orders clothes or groceries, or a ticket-dispensing kiosk at a theatre.
As per the Census of India 2011, there are 26.8 million PwDs in the country. This is substantial, and hence proactive measures are necessary to ensure accessibility for all as digital India progresses. Here are four ways businesses can do so.
Incorporate accessibility into on-boarding process: While welcoming new employees, an organisation should prioritise integration of accessibility and disability inclusion into their training. It is essential to develop tailored training programs that align with specific roles. For instance, if a web developer is joining, providing training on W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and various accessibility tools will enable them to implement accessible software solutions.
By incorporating inclusive practices, the on-boarding pipeline will foster a culture of accessibility throughout the organisation.
Hire PwDs: PwDs can thrive in the workplace if provided with an inclusive work climate and reasonable accommodations. Many companies fear the accommodation cost, but it is noteworthy that most accommodations are inexpensive for employers. For instance, a person with a speech disability can communicate better if they are provided with non-verbal communication options such as chat. Most video conferencing platforms provide chat for free. Similarly, a person with a chronic illness may need to work from home. Covid-19 has demonstrated that ‘work from home’ is feasible.
PwDs demonstrate resilience and determination as they navigate their lives with disabilities. They are a catalyst for innovation as they always look for solutions to work around and accommodate their disabilities. By tapping into this pool of talent, hiring them and paying them equal wages, companies can significantly improve accessibility of their products.
Set up an accessibility programme: Setting up a company- or organisation-wide accessibility program is important since one person alone cannot achieve overall accessibility for business. Here’s the bitter truth: If accessibility is required for compliance, more people will pay more attention to it as it would technically be mandatory for a product to meet some accessibility benchmarks before its public release. It is recommended to implement a balanced approach that includes mandatory policies and empathy-building strategies to ensure full accessibility to digital products.
Besides the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, India has the Guidelines for Indian Government Websites document, which every government entity should follow. These guidelines are based on international standards. While the exact process of applying these guidelines may be difficult in the private sector, it is important to consider accessibility critically to serve the millions of PwDs in India.
Don’t fall for shortcuts: Many shortcut solutions are available now, which claim to fix all accessibility issues on the website or mobile app in under five minutes. These solutions, known as ‘overlays’ or ‘widgets’, basically scan a website and apply code to fix the issues. Most often, they don’t work well and are ‘retrofitted solutions’ which are only partially accessible or completely inaccessible. Accessibility requires intentional efforts from the start of the design to the development process.
There are legitimate ways to build accessibility into websites, such as designing with accessibility from the start, hiring accessibility testers, creating a backlog of issues and prioritising them. .
Digital accessibility is necessary for some, but it is useful for all.
The writer is a software engineer at Microsoft, Redmond, US. Views are personal