Digital accessibility and physical accessibility are not meant to be in competition with one another. They are both civil rights. Achieving equality means working to ensure physical and digital access are taken seriously.

Having a disability can dominate someone’s life. It can have various degrees of repercussions, such as challenges to finding work, traveling, participating in education, or taking part in regular social activities. And that’s just considering the physical world – without addressing the issues people with disabilities face online.

For instance, why is a wheelchair considered more commonplace than a web page built for a screen reader?

Until recently, most accessibility initiatives were focused on an individual’s inability to interact with the physical world, such as ensuring people who use wheelchairs have access to buildings. But it’s just as important that we guarantee barrier-free access for the digital world.

This includes governmental, e-commerce and banking websites as well as mobile apps and software products.

Although the world is beginning to embrace the concept of digital accessibility, more needs to be done to educate content creators about the importance of accessibility now and in the future. While physical and digital accessibility require different types of accommodations, both are essential.

Just as physical accessibility features are considered from the very beginning of a building’s design process, so too must engineers, software developers, and UX/UI experts adopt an accessibility-first mindset in the work they do.

The ADA & The Question of Digital Accessibility

The accessibility landscape in the United States changed in a significant way in 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. Essentially, the ADA prohibits discrimination “against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that open to the general public.”

For example, the ADA meant that telecommunications services had to allow individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone. Because of this, businesses had to become familiar with the issues surrounding physical disability and what they had to do to become accessible.

In the years since the adoption of the ADA, accommodations for physical access to businesses and government buildings have become commonplace. So why didn’t digital access become prevalent as well? In 1990, the internet did not exist. The first website didn’t go online until one year later.

Consequently, the ADA does not mention digital accessibility issues at all. But the world changes, and so does the need for the concept of accessibility to be refined and expanded.

In 2010, the Obama administration extended the ADA to include digital services like mobile phone apps and websites. This added an entirely new dimension to equal access and accessibility. Meanwhile, digital advocates have increasingly become more vocal about the need for better accessibility online.

Automation Can Solve Most Digital Accessibility Challenges

While building a completely accessible website has traditionally been costly due to the need for hand-coded fixes, new innovations like the suite of digital solutions from UserWay have allowed developers to instantly remediate most violations for a fraction of the cost.

For example, the AI-Powered UserWay Accessibility Widget begins automatically making code corrections as soon as it’s installed. It writes descriptions for photos, adds alt-text labels to buttons, and ensures assistive technologies like the screen readers used by the blind are able to completely navigate a website.

It also adds customization options all site visitors can use, such as the ability to switch to a dyslexia-friendly font and stop distracting animations.

Another tool UserWay created automatically scans and identifies accessibility problems on websites. This makes it easy for web developers to know exactly what code needs fixed and which violations should be addressed first.

Regardless of how a website is built and maintained – either through manual or automated processes – one rule can’t be ignored: Equal access is a right established by the ADA.

Most functions of society that were previously done in physical spaces, such as banking, buying products, and receiving government services, have moved to digital spaces. Let’s make sure everyone can enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution.