By J W Jackie
RENO, Nevada, USA (IDN) — Thirty years after the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in the U.S. to make the country and the internet more accessible, the glaring problems with digital accessibility can no longer be ignored. Whether it’s access to healthcare, work and education, or even state government websites, the ongoing switch to virtual living has alienated a sizable segment of the population.
Despite over 30 million Americans filing for unemployment, “86% of state government unemployment websites fail at least one basic test for mobile page load speed, mobile-friendliness, or accessibility,” a new report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation shows.
Lack of accessible medical care
Telehealth video conferencing platforms don’t provide captions to accommodate users with disabilities, resulting in technical glitches and “infuriating” delays for patients. Deaf patients and those with hearing impairments are even experiencing technical issues when receiving in-person care, as hospitals have replaced in-person interpreters with video remote interpreting.
Spotty internet connections and/or poorly trained medical professionals have made the switch unsuccessful. Plagued by technical problems, some hospitals have permanently switched to using whiteboards to communicate instead. Moreover, many people with disabilities don’t even have internet access in the first place to attend virtual appointments. Adults with disabilities are 20% less likely to own a computer, smartphone or tablet than nondisabled people. 23% “never” go online, compared to just 8% of nondisabled people.
Support for students
Similarly, students aren’t being accommodated in the switch to online courses—despite the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act being in place to ensure equal access to special education. Five high school students with complete loss of sight and the National Federation of the Blind recently filed a civil rights complaint against the College Board for not providing hardcopy Braille versions of its AP tests (now taken virtually).
“College Board needs to give the option for Braille and tactile diagrams, like we would have had before the pandemic,” said student Mitchell Smedley. “Without them, it’s like asking the sighted students to turn off their screens.”
Organizations, businesses and schools must act to improve online accessibility, and fortunately, there’s reason for optimism. Lawsuits relating to web accessibility violations are filed at a rate of one every working hour. In a recent landmark case, the Supreme Court denied a petition from Domino’s Pizza on whether its website has to be accessible.
This upheld a previous ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Domino’s website not working for a man with complete sight loss’ screen reader software violates the ADA and must be changed.
Additionally, tech companies are springing up to help ensure that websites are ADA-compliant and adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. AudioEye, for example, uses AI technology to identify and fix accessibility issues like missing image descriptions, inaccessible forms, and poor use of headings. Under the ADA, businesses, including ecommerce stores, need to be accessible to people with disabilities as long as they have 15 full-time employees and/or run at least 20 weeks of the year.
By improving the user-experience for people with disabilities like hearing loss, sight loss, and cognitive impairments or mobility issues, online stores can also benefit from a bigger, more diverse audience and, in turn, increased sales.
“We stand to benefit greatly, alongside everyone else in this economy, if we make digital accessibility a priority,” said former Rep. Tony Coelho. “My recommendation for leaders who are trying to figure out what to do and how to do it is to build relationships with disability leaders in their communities. They are your best assets.”
He also stressed the need to “address how race, class, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion impact digital access.” With the continued proactive adoption of accessibility measures, we can ultimately help improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 April 2021]
Share your views on this article: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Pexels
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.
This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.