Imagine life if your smartphone, notebook or desktop computer was literally out of reach because your hands, hearing or eyesight didn’t work, or you couldn’t clearly make out the onscreen text and images? That’s a daily dilemma faced by many people with disabilities – the blind and people with limited vision, the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and those suffering full or partial loss of motor skills.
Fortunately, today’s web designers and developers have embraced assistive technologies that make websites accessible to those with these types of disabilities.
Let’s take a closer look at the primary roles assistive technologies play on a fully accessible website and how they work.
What are assistive technologies?
Assistive technology (AT) is a catchall term for the digital hardware, applications software and systems specifically designed to enhance learning, working and daily living for people with disabilities.
In the U.S., demand for AT got a significant boost with the 1990 adoption of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law requires that all public and commercial spaces make reasonable accommodation so people with limited sight, hearing and mobility can move in and around those spaces.
The ADA’s full-access mandate also applies to the internet. Government agencies, institutions, companies and nonprofits must ensure the disabled have full access to, or information about, their products and services available via the world wide web. The goal is to create an internet that is inclusive, no matter what ability or disability someone has.
So how do conformant sites work with assistive technologies?
The short answer is by following proper accessibility markup – code that directs how text and images are displayed on a web page -- but there’s more to it.
From the initial design stage to the development of websites in a content management system, developers must work closely with certified accessibility experts following protocols known as the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).*
Simply adding a few code attributes here and there in the HTML markup is not enough. Instead, a site needs to be comprehensively designed and developed against the current WCAG guidelines to ensure everything is accessible by specific assistive technologies.
Here are a few examples of Assistive Technologies to take into count when designing ADA-accessible websites.
Screen-readers: These are primarily used by visually impaired people who can’t clearly view content on a desktop, laptop or mobile device. In a digitally synthesized voice, screen readers “read” text and images displayed onscreen. That is only possible if the website is created against proper accessibility considerations, such as aria landmarks, proper headings, alternative text descriptions, among others.
Screen/Color Magnification Tools: These allow people with limited sight and those who have difficulty making out onscreen entries to expand the size of text and images. The same tools permit adjustment of the background luminescence of users’ screens luminescence to improve the visual contrast of text and images. Creating a responsive website helps accommodate these tools.
Color blindness simulator: There aren’t many assistive technologies available for people who are color blind. However, there are many color contrast considerations taken into account when designing a website to ensure that people who are color blind can see the content.
Video Captions/Transcripts: Much of the web is accessible for people with hearing loss because the content is presented in a visual or text format. As more digital technologies converge, though, more video, audio, and multimedia content are making their way onto the Internet. That means all videos, audio and multimedia content must include closed captions and transcripts to enable people who are deaf or blind to have access to this content.
Keyboard access: People with motor-skills disabilities mostly rely on their keyboards, rather than a mouse. Still, we know that motor disabilities cover a broad range of physical limitations, from a temporary inability to use one or both hands due to injury, all the way to having little to no motor control of one’s limbs. To accommodate them, all of a webpage’s content should be accessible via keystroke.
Of course, many other accessibility considerations are carefully implemented and rigorously rechecked and tested throughout the web design cycle by our certified accessibility professionals to ensure nothing is overlooked, creating an awesome website experience for everyone. To learn more about ADA conformant websites, assistive technology or discuss opportunities to make your site ADA conformant, contact one of ZAG’s certified ADA experts.
Sr. QA & Certified Accessibility Analyst
ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings