Accessibility in tech is a hot button topic, with tech experts Engadget noting that 2020 saw leaps and strides in the inclusivity of technology but that there was still a huge gap for people with accessibility needs. With regulatory frameworks not promoting inclusivity enough, a laissez-faire approach to being accessibility-positive has been taken in the industry with varying results. However, movements within tech circles indicate that the big players in innovation and manufacturing are absolutely moving towards being accessibility-first – the question is whether private digital business will follow.
Building a buzz
An overview of some early previews from CES 2021 has brought a huge range of accessible tech to the fore. This includes, according to CES, braille keyboards, adaptive hearing technology for browsing, and lip-reading software. There is clearly an appetite within the tech industry to provide better solutions for those who need them the most. What is less clear is whether this technology is making inroads into the overall attitudes of private digital business. Increasingly, businesses are being encouraged to show that they can be inclusive by being aware of the needs of people living with disability and making their businesses open and accessible to them. Software is helping to bridge the gap.
Wide market accessibility tech
A major reason for private online business not providing those accessibility aids is a lack of expertise. Outside of the companies with the biggest budgets (or legislated requirement to provide accessibility tools, such as those expected of banks), it has been historically difficult for businesses to invest the time into making their websites accessible and cross-compatible. However, with the advent of website builders like SquareSpace and WP, and with Google and other big tech giants providing guidance, it is becoming routine to implement features like text-to-speech natively.
Inspiration for these adaptations has come from a perhaps unlikely source. The American Alliance of Museums has provided best practice tools for their members and has seen huge uptake. Museums obviously have an imperative to provide equal access to everyone in society, but they often operate under large budget constraints that might prevent them from updating their technology – many are charities, after all. They are, however, showing the way for private business by proving that accessible technology can be free, can be open, and does not need to have a huge financial cost. By using design principles like providing alt-text, transcribing video content, and using balanced contrast, they are showing the way for businesses to provide an accessible vision of their own websites. Accessible tech does not need to be futuristic; for many, a simple set of adaptations can help them to navigate in a way that benefits their specific conditions.
What’s the takeaway that businesses can take from charitable enterprise and emerging tech? Put time and effort into your accessibility. You don’t need absolute cutting-edge tech – but it helps. Simply having an accessibility-first design process and implementing it thoroughly will show the way.
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