100+ Days of COVID and its Impact on Digital Accessibility

Tarveen Kaur July 27, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we interact with and use digital resources. It’s been over 100+ days, and we have witnessed unprecedented challenges and new opportunities to change the course of web accessibility. There’s always a silver lining, even in the darkest clouds. In a matter of a few weeks, the global population has turned to the Internet as the sole source for learning, ecommerce, business transactions, and social engagement. Though the spread of Coronavirus has had a tremendous negative impact in various domains, it has opened up doors for promoting digital accessibility.  The outbreak of Coronavirus globally has exposed digital exclusion and widened the inequality in opportunities for people with disabilities. Since approximately one billion people or nearly 15% of the world’s population have some disability, it’s important to have digital content and media available in accessible formats. The topic of digital accessibility has now come to the forefront, and organizations worldwide are now committed to ensuring accessibility compliance as per WCAG requirements. People with disabilities cannot be excluded and denied the opportunity to access digital resources. Good digital accessibility does not only serve the disabled, but it will also help the aged population stuck at home during the pandemic. Digital accessibility is now the topmost priority for all organizations. According to G3ict data, 59% of countries have now adopted a legal definition of accessibility, which includes ICTs, compared to only 49% in the year 2018. Most organizations are ready to invest in accessibility-as-a-service technology and collaborate with partners to deliver web and mobile experiences that comply with WCAG guidelines.  
Digital Accessibility for Remote Learners During the Pandemic
If there is one arena where the need to tackle digital accessibility has intensified, it is education. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened a new realm for online learners, and remote learning is the way forward. Extended lockdowns in all parts of the globe have made educational companies invest in creating digital content following universal designs for the inclusion of all kinds of users, irrespective of disabilities, or learning styles. The chalk-and-talk model is no longer acceptable, as health experts predict that the pandemic is not expected to end anytime soon. Democratizing access to digital educational resources and content is the need of the hour. Artificial intelligence-enabled applications such as speech-to-text capability and automated captioning are now the new norm. They can be integrated to make web content accessible to all sections of the population.  
Making K-12 & Higher Education Accessible 
The ongoing global pandemic has made it vital to focus on the digital accessibility of learning resources. There is an increasing demand for certified professionals by educational technology companies to implement inclusive designs, ensuring born accessible products are being built. As of April 2020, 191 governments across the world had closed K-12 schools due to the coronavirus outbreak. Even though some regions may commence classroom learning, nearly 1.6 billion young learners will now rely majorly on remote learning practices. Hence, it is imperative to create an inclusive and accessible digital world. The outbreak of the pandemic has had massive implications on K-12 higher education. The US Department of Education issued a set of updated web accessibility guidelines for K-12 schools during the crisis to ensure inclusion for all. The guidance to educational institutions stresses that in these exceptional circumstances, all efforts should be made to strive for a flexible approach that does not deny equitable access to learning resources to people with disabilities. Edtech companies are bolstering capabilities by ensuring that all remote learning resources follow WCAG guidelines.National Center on Accessible Educational Materials, Massachusetts, has developed a comprehensive set of quality indicators for accessible educational content to ensure that all learners have equal opportunities. These seven qualitative guidelines focus on critical components that need to be implemented to facilitate accessible resources such as learning management systems for users with disabilities. These guidelines provide a blueprint for decision-makers in K-12 educational institutions to evaluate current digital accessibility practices and make necessary changes.  From a business perspective, can you think of the number of people that will be excluded from engaging with your content if your website is not accessible? Inclusive design principles for remote learning that follow WCAG guidelines are the best way to ensure that your educational digital content is accessible by learners with cognitive, visual, auditory, or motor impairment. With the widespread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internet is being used for education, leisure, and business continuity. If there is ever a dire need to implement web accessibility practices, it is now. Millions of diverse users will benefit from an accessible website – so act now and make a difference!  

Tarveen Kaur

Accessibility Practice Lead at Magic EdTech, Tarveen is actively engaged in building new class digital accessibility solutions for education.