Is the tech sector getting more focused on accessibility at last?

UKAAF’s Tim Nelms finds grounds for both optimism and pessimism for members in the latest Level Access study on ‘The State of Digital Accessibility 2020: The Technology Sector’

What’s notable here is that Level Access was actually founded by engineers with disabilities, so when it looks in-depth at a problem like digital accessibility in the tech world, there’s a fair chance what will come back will be pretty credible.

There’s certainly a lot to chew over in the finished study. For instance, a majority (53%) of technology sector buyers are seeking out accessible products for use in their organisations; compared with other industries, technology firms are more likely to write code-level tests to validate accessibility requirements (38% vs. 21%); 67% are seeking to conform to WCAG 2.1.; 88% of development teams say they think about accessibility before building begins, for instance.

However, there’s a lot in here that’s disappointing. While the majority of respondents agree that testing by people with disabilities is important, the majority don’t do it, for one. Next, Time to develop an accessible product, or remediate an inaccessible one, emerges as a common challenge, while only 19%  have more than 10 members working primarily on accessibility—and only 34% have had active, in-house accessibility programmes for longer than three years.

People feel compelled to be inclusive

My conclusion out of all this is that we are making progress, but not quickly enough. What the report shows is whilst some organisations have been taking accessibility seriously for a long time, there are a lot for whom it is quite a new initiative.

I think that speaks to the maturing of the discipline and the need for greater awareness of accessibility. Also, it’s clear that sensitivity to regulation and possible legal problems are big drivers of even starting such initiatives; 38% of the sample say they are anticipating legislative and regulatory evolution.

The other factor cited in the report was that people feel compelled to be inclusive; we can genuinely say the primary driver for companies is altruistic, that developers want to do a better job at supporting their fellow citizens with disabilities.

The good news is that digital technologies are maturing to the point where they are fit for consumption by everybody. In 1995, when people were starting to build the World Wide Web, we hadn’t thought a great deal about how people who were visually impaired were going to navigate to a web browser, but nowadays, thank goodness, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all enable their products with accessible features so that you can navigate around with voiceover and screen readers.

Maybe the good takeaway here is that in parallel with the overall digital transformation the world has been going through in the last 20 or 30 years, I think we forget that there’s a similar digital transformation happening for disabled people. They’re taking enormous advantage of new mobile phone and web technologies to get through life, and there’s no doubt that digital technologies are having a transformative effect on people with disabilities.

Part of UKAAF’s challenge is to become more focused and orientated around digital technologies and that will be a big factor in our next 10 years to ensure that they’re a focus of our activity, too.

The author is a UKAAF board member, where he works closely on developing and sustaining partnerships with vendors and other standards bodies. He is also VP International at Crawford Technologies, a solutions and services company focused on document accessibility, output management, enterprise content management, and archiving

 If you would like to see the full Level Access report yourself, go here

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