Three Ways Companies Can Lean into Accessibility Ahead of GAAD 2022

Innovations in tech and media in the last decade have dramatically shifted how people experience news, entertainment and digital content, yet it has also left many diverse communities behind–especially people with disabilities.

Over the past few years, more companies have started embracing the needs of the accessibility community. Companies like Apple, Twitter and Snapchat have recently created new platforms, features and tools designed for users who are blind, deaf or have limited mobility.

But the reality is, we still have a very long way to go. Our eagerness to upgrade and drive forward efficiencies is resulting in communities being left behind. A recent report found that 98% of U.S.-based webpages are not accessible to users with disabilities. And more than a year after the first COVID-19 vaccine rollout, people with disabilities are still facing challenges accessing both vaccines and vaccine information.

With roughly one in five Americans having at least one kind of disability, we need to be doing a better job of ensuring that accessibility is included at all levels of the creative process for our designs, products, technologies and communications.

In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), here are three accessibility best practices you and your teams can leverage to drive better, more inclusive user experiences for all.

Embrace people-first language

It is just what it sounds like. People-first language leads with and focuses on the person, rather than their condition or capabilities.

Language is very powerful. The simple restructuring of a sentence can be the difference between defining or empowering an individual.

Consider how these reworked phrases make you feel: “person with a disability” over “disabled person,” or “person who uses a wheelchair” over “person who is wheelchair bound.”

As general rules, avoid negative phrasing, emphasize abilities over limitations and do not equate communities with their disabilities. Mindful changes like this can go a long way in driving forward positivity and destigmatizing communities.

And if you are ever unsure of how to refer to a specific person or community, explore resources on person-first language or visit an organization’s website that advocates for that community to see what language they use.

Understand how different audiences experience your content

Now more than ever, people with disabilities have access to screen readers, voice-to-text, eye tracking and other tech that is transforming the way they experience content. That’s why before your team hits post, it is important to take a closer look at your text and consider how assistive tools might read your copy.

Case in point—a recent tweet pointed out that Camelcase, or phrases written with a capitalized letter denoting a new word without spacing, was the difference between Black Lives Matter being pronounced by screen reader software as “Black Lives Matter” or “black live (the verb) smatter.”

The good news is many social media and tech companies today have already made it easier for organizations to lean into accessibility best practices. Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams offer live closed captioning and post-event transcripts of meetings. YouTube and TikTok have made it easier to leverage subtitles. Instagram now provides an option to add invisible text and Twitter and Facebook have both rolled out ALT Text capabilities to add descriptions of visuals.

A lot of the hard work has already been done, but the onus is on us to proactively lean into inclusive technologies. To help make your content more inclusive, write in plain language, do not overuse capitalization and pay attention to proper punctuation to ensure message clarity. Add ALT Text descriptions to your visuals and photos. Consider testing the accessibility of your webpage using free tools like the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. And, keeping the above in mind, lean into Camelcase when using hashtags.

Ensure your inclusion efforts are actually inclusive

Millions of tech users come from diverse backgrounds with different hearing, cognitive, motor, mental health and visual abilities. Just as your company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts should feature and support people representing a wide range of genders, races, ethnicities, ages, cultures and abilities, they should also include diverse and specialized offerings for those within the disability community. It’s important to keep in mind the wide range of people with disabilities when innovating programs, initiatives and technology updates.

Arguably the best way your organization can better lean into accessibility inclusion is to continue having open and honest conversations around what your organization is doing well and how to improve, as the best feedback is always gathered from the communities themselves.

As you seek to innovate new products, create new platforms, design new technologies and plan what the future could look like in your industry, make a commitment to include people with different accessibility needs–and include them early in your ideation process.

It’s past time we all lean into this very common saying among accessibility champions: “There is no diversity, equity and inclusion without disability.”

APCOAccess, APCO Worldwide’s latest Employee Resource Group (ERG) is committed to creating a more diverse and resilient workforce by empowering people with disabilities and advocating accessibility best practices across the organization. Learn more about ERGs at APCO here.