By James Hall, commercial director at Striata, a Doxim company

In the UK, an estimated 19% of working-age adults live with a disability, as does 45% of the pension age population.

This translates to 14.1 million people who reported living with a disability. But all too often, companies produce digital assets that don’t cater to those living with disabilities.

This is despite the fact that accessibility is becoming a regulatory requirement in many countries. In the UK, for example, the Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from unfair treatment, requiring specifically website owners to anticipate the needs of people with disabilities and make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their sites. Additionally, public sector sites in the UK need to meet certain accessibility standards.

But accessibility goes beyond just ensuring that websites are compliant with certain forms of regulation. Organisations need to ensure that all of their digital assets are accessible. Those that don’t are failing a significant portion of their customer base.

Understanding accessibility

Accessibility refers to how easily a recipient with a physical impairment or learning disability can access or consume information contained on a web page, in an email or a document that is presented online.

A person is considered to have a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ negative effects on their ability to perform normal daily activities. This is the core definition of disability as provided in the Equality Act 2010.

That means that organisations must cater for different disability forms and incorporate a range of ability within each. These include visual, ranging from low vision to blindness, which affects around 1.7m people in the UK; auditory, ranging from low hearing to deafness (1.8m); motor or mobility, including physical or motor impairments such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy (6.8m); and cognitive, where people have difficulty processing information, such as in dyslexia and autism (1.9m).

Making it work

Achieving accessibility is a combination of digital design and development. Digital teams need to be trained on accessibility guidelines or outsource to a partner who can provide services and technology that promote compliance.

It’s also important that this accessibility covers not just the organisation’s website, but all the communication it sends out across its various channels.

Some common accessibility standards include ensuring websites and emails are easily navigable on a mobile device or via keyboard only; creating PDF documents that can be read by screen readers and avoiding text with a poor colour contrast – which is challenging for people with visual impairments.

Why neglecting digital assets can leave them non-compliant

Organisations also need to think about how accessibility applies to their specific industry and whether all digital assets have been reviewed and redone.

Examples of this include:

You’ll never know unless you ask

Perhaps the best tool an organisation has when it comes to accessibility is acquiring regular feedback from its customers.

Ask them whether they’re happy with the accessibility of your products and services and encourage suggestions on how you could improve on your service delivery to them.

Beyond consequences

While there are consequences for organisations that don’t meet accessibility standards — some of which include complaints being brought to industry regulators, an ombudsman, or The Equality and Human Rights Commission — that shouldn’t be the primary motivator for embracing accessibility.

Ultimately, organisations must adapt their service delivery platforms to make for easy accessibility across the end-user spectrum.