Digital Accessibility in Times of Adversity

Surabhi Tyagi August 12, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in chaos and disrupted lives across the globe. Digital dependence is the new norm. The Internet has allowed people access to essential goods and services. It has also ensured that children can attend online classes and helped business organizations continue operations smoothly. Health experts and WHO officials have predicted that the COVID-19 situation will take time to die down. This means that we can expect a surge in global web-based education, e-commerce, and business transactions in the next few months. Now while this is rosy for the tech-savvy population, people with disabilities may deal with insecurity and experience difficulties in accessing digital information.  “We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”― Stevie Wonder. The time has come to shift the focus on accessibility! Deque Systems, a software company and market leader in the digital accessibility domain, conducted a survey that revealed that over one-third of disabled people experienced problems accessing digital content online. The results also highlight that 83% of disabled respondents believe that the ongoing pandemic has led to an increase in their organizations’ digital channels.  It is imperative to design inclusive websites, mobile apps, and educational digital content. After all, there are more than 2 billion disabled people globally, and we cannot exclude such a vast audience base from accessing digital information. Social distancing, work from home, and online classes have led to a massive transformation in the way we live our lives. In such unprecedented times, it is important to ensure that information and communication technologies are created, keeping in mind people with limited functional abilities.  
Making Digital Assets Accessible And Inclusive
The outbreak of coronavirus has brought the spotlight on digital accessibility. This is the prime reason that the International Telecommunication Union(ITU) has released guidelines to ensure that digital assets, services, and products are accessible for all humanity. The framework stresses that people with disabilities should understand, access, and use public information, radio broadcasts, websites, Whatsapp, email notifications, and social channels. If there is one sector that COVID-19 has revolutionized, it is an education. Schools in most countries have been brought to a grinding halt, and online learning has emerged in a big way. With over 1.7 billion students at home in over 190 countries due to the widespread pandemic, digital accessibility is non-negotiable for remote learners. The human right to an equal education cannot be denied to anyone. Hence it is vital to follow WCAG 2.1 guidelines to promote accessibility. Here are some basic digital accessibility requirements that educational technology organizations need to keep in mind while designing web-based content:
  • Input Error Identification: While anyone can make an error while entering data, it is important to identify and make disabled users aware of it. Assistive technologies can inform users of the error information, and they can also receive a success notification once it is resolved
  • Alt Text Tags: One of the most useful features that make a page accessible, Alt Text tags contain a short description of any image. It gives all necessary details about the image and can be read to visually impaired learners through a reader. The main aim is to provide content in an alternative text-based format.
  • Landmark/ARIA on Quizzes/Assessment pages: ARIA Landmarks are a basic requirement for accessibility so that online learners can quickly check out any questions or modules. It helps disables users navigate smoothly and identify sections of a webpage. Landmarks are particularly useful in educational content such as quizzes or tests with a session expiration limit and help remote learners move to and fro pages.
  • Content Readability: Optimal contrast on text and images is beneficial for learners with cognitive disabilities and visual impairment. Appropriate text size and concise language with no jargon can enhance the rate of processing information for diverse users.
Accessibility is a mandatory legal requirement. Organizations cannot discriminate amongst learners and deny them the right to digital learning experiences. K-12 schools and higher learning institutions are adapting to the new normal so that students with disabilities can succeed. Provide equitable digital access can make a radical difference, and impact lives positively!    

Surabhi Tyagi

Surabhi Tyagi is a Certified Scrum Master and Accessibility QA Lead at Magic EdTech.