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Our Take: Why You Should Be Thinking About Online Accessibility

C/A Digital Producer Tia Peterson explains the importance of creating inclusive online content — and why it matters now more than ever.

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By Tia Peterson

The internet is often dubbed “the great equalizer,” but it can only live up to that name if everything on the internet is accessible to everyone. Yes, everyone — regardless of abilities, disabilities, class or available resources.

Web accessibility is about much more than just visual disabilities. There are four major categories of disabilities that must be accounted for when it comes to web accessibility, according to nonprofit organization Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM): visual (blindness, low-vision, color-blindness), hearing (deafness and hard-of-hearing), motor (inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine-motor control) and cognitive (learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of info). WebAIM also says that 20 percent of the population has a disability that falls into one of these four categories.

It may be easier said than done, but ensuring accessibility for all should be a priority for everyone who posts content on the internet. To that end, we sat down with C/A Digital Producer Tia Peterson to chat about how to make online content accessible and what the future of accessibility holds.

What’s the first step to ensure we’re thinking about how to make our digital content accessible for everyone?

“Start with the end goal, then work backward. Whether it’s a podcast, video, commercial, GIF, whatever — you always have to ask yourself, how do people who can’t see or hear get this content?”

Stripping it down to its basics before design is the No. 1 way. Let’s say we’re using video to promote a new university program for female athletes. Now strip that back: If a user can’t see or hear, how will they get that information? Working from there, we realize we need to have something that’s written, for both screen readers — which are computer programs that read written text aloud — and for those with hearing disabilities. Then we have to figure out how people will get to the transcript — is it a link or is it on that page?

So, we start with the end goal, then work backward. Whether it’s a podcast, video, commercial or GIF, you have to ask yourself, How do people who can’t see or hear get this content? That’s how you start making things accessible. It starts to build empathy when we ask ourselves that question for everything we do. Are we unintentionally leaving out a portion of the population because they can’t interact with our content?

And who are those portions of the population we need to keep top of mind?

I love Microsoft’s Inclusive Design approach because they explain that there are three types of disabilities: situational, temporary and permanent.

Imagine somebody on a train without headphones; they can’t hear a video because the environment they’re in is just too loud. That would be a hearing disability, but only because of their current situation. That’s why, as content marketers, we always have to think about context. When you start to do that, you realize this is actually what we’re supposed to be doing for a living — thinking about how people consume content and in what context. If we’re producing content for a news site, for example, we have to realize that people are looking at the news in the morning and on their commute. If we’re doing things people can’t interact with in those situations, we’re losing our audience.

Then there’s the temporary one: I broke my arm so I can’t use a mouse right now. I had eye surgery so I can’t look at something for a week. These are temporary disabilities.

And then, of course, there are permanent disabilities. If we think about all of these and consider the context in which people are consuming content, we’ll always be accessible because we’re covering all our bases. We can’t miss if we take it a step back.

What do you think this is all going to look like 5 years down the road?

In the very near future, all content will need to be accessible, because content must be portable and transferable to keep up with the changes in the way we’re consuming it. That said, situational context is about to become more important than ever, since technology has presented us with so many new ways of accessing the Internet.

For example, we’re moving toward a place where Siri, Alexa and other virtual assistants navigate the web for us. We’re not even looking at our phones — we’re just listening because we’re on the move. Content marketers have to think about how they can get their point across audibly, not just visually.

We’re also moving toward things like wearables and on-demand consumption. I might want to consume a website through my Apple watch, or on my desktop or mobile phone. Because of this, content has to be able to transfer itself easily from one device to another. That means marketers have to start asking if they’re limiting their reach by making their content applicable on only one device or accessible in only one format.

So there’s a technology shift, but there’s a sociological component as well. Not everybody has access to all these cool things, so how do we reach everyone with our messages? We talk a lot about accessibility as just helping a blind person navigate the internet, but it’s so much more than that. Accessibility is simply making sure everybody has access to the same content. We have to ensure that we’re thinking about it in that broader sense.

That makes sense — you have to be able to get your message across to everyone who wants to or needs to hear it, but a lot of people don’t even consider that.

And when you consider marketing, there’s money to be made in being accessible. You’re losing out on potential clients or customers when you haven’t really thought through your broadest reach. When you start to think through accessibility, that’s when you realize there are a lot of benefits to accessibility.

Plus, it’s just the right thing to do. Increasingly, people are becoming empathetic to disabilities, and they’re understanding that the internet can be the great equalizer. So how do we make it what it was meant to be?

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Tia Peterson Digital Producer

Tia has a passion for creating exceptional user experiences. She brings over 15 years of experience across multiple industries and platforms, from small websites to enterprise applications. Most recently, she led the successful launch of key University of Arizona digital initiatives, including the university’s website. Her experience includes user experience design, front-end web development, quality assurance and analytics.

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