What is Digital Accessibility and Why Does It Matter?

Mon Oct 9 2023

The internet has changed the way we live our lives. In the past decade, and especially since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have come to increasingly rely on online means of communication, education, entertainment, and services. By August 2022, 30% of workers in the European Union (EU) were regularly working from home.

However, the internet is not an inclusive or accessible space for all. People with disabilities, who make up 16% of the global population, are often excluded from the digital world. While they may have the technical know-how and skills needed to use a computer or a mobile phone, they then face barriers in the form of inaccessible websites and mobile apps. Disorientating flashing content, videos missing subtitles, forms that time out too quickly, images missing text descriptions – the list of ways websites and mobile apps cause problems for disabled users never ends.

But accessibility is a fundamental human right: these users should be able to shop online, work from home, watch class lectures, message their friends, and browse the web just the same as everyone else. In 2019, the EU published the European Accessibility Act (EAA) to demonstrate exactly that. The EAA requires all products and services entering the EU market from 28th June 2025 onwards to be accessible to those with disabilities; namely products and services in the banking, financial, technology, audio-visual media, communication, transport, and e-commerce sectors. This, of course, includes the websites and mobile apps provided by organisations in these sectors.

With less than two years left until the EAA comes into force, implementing digital accessibility seems like a daunting task. One of the biggest problems encountered in this field is the lack of awareness: not only are website and app owners unaware of the incoming legislation, they might not know what digital accessibility is at all.

IA Labs was established by NCBI (National Council for the Blind in Ireland) for this reason. We aim to drive forward the issue of equal access to the digital world for everyone. Websites and apps are not purposely designed to exclude those with disabilities, so IA Labs have taken on the task of educating developers, designers, and content creators on how to put accessibility into practice in their work. In our digital accessibility audits, we find and record areas on your website or app where a disabled user might face difficulties, and offer you guidance in the process of fixing these issues. What results is an upskilling of development teams, who learn from their work and are able to prioritise digital accessibility in future projects.

Adding alternative text descriptions to your images and subtitles to your videos, labelling your forms, links, and buttons, allowing keyboard accessibility – there are many tasks involved in the journey of making your website or app digitally accessible, and it is very much a journey. No one expects all of these changes to happen overnight, but starting to implement these features means you are already ahead of the top websites in the world, of which only 2% are digitally accessible.

This issue is a global one. Where the EU has the EAA, the USA have the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508, which similarly uphold the rights of the disability community to have equal access to the internet. Canada, Australia, the UK, Japan, and South Korea have their own laws too, and many more countries around the world are becoming aware of the importance of digital accessibility.

This opens more doors to those with disabilities, who will be able to use the websites and apps we rely on every day, but also to you as an organisation, who will be able to comply with legislation and increase your consumer market by up to 16%.

IA Labs are working with Brokers Ireland to outline Brokers requirements and obligations in preparing for the Digital Accessibility Act and over the coming months will host an information webinar to members.  IA Labs is also delighted to offer Brokers Ireland members a 10% discount for digital accessibility website audits.

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