Digital accessibility is the future of the ADA

Smartphones, websites and other digital experiences are a part of everyday life - and the ADA ensures that they're accessible to folks with disabilities.

A series of wires connecting icons of an eye, a person in a wheelchair, a magnifying glass, a network of people, a megaphone, and a laptop

For a growing number of Americans, smartphone ordering apps, or any technology that provides a service, has become an essential, not a perk. Still, some 7 million adults in the U.S. who have a visual disability are unable to use digital platforms because businesses have not made them accessible.

And that’s just bad business, when you consider that, worldwide, people with disabilities and their allies control $13 trillion worth of disposable income.

More than three decades after it was signed into law, the future of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), at its core, is about dramatically changing technology so that it offers independence and improves quality of life for this growing population. It has also become a business imperative: the number of digital accessibility lawsuits continues to increase every year, and research shows inclusive companies are more profitable.

Digital accessibility at Perkins

Nowhere is that new normal more apparent than at Perkins Access, a branch of Perkins School for the Blind. The Access team of consultants helps companies not only comply with but embrace the ADA’s mandate that services and products, including all things digital, be accessible for people with disabilities.

“Our goal at Perkins is to prepare our students for the world, and the world for our students. That is why we’ve designed our digital accessibility consulting services to help businesses support all of their users,” says Jennifer Sagalyn, director of strategic partnerships at Perkins Access, who has worked with industry giants including America’s Test Kitchen, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and Amica Health Insurance to support accessible design initiatives.

The goal of digital accessibility: reach everyone, all the time

Today, the disabled community stands on the shoulders of lifelong disability advocates including the late Judy Heumann and Steve Brown, who organized, protested and persisted in fighting in Congress and on the streets to bring attention to their right to attend school, use transportation, live within a community and find meaningful work.

In her book, Heumann wrote about fighting for three things: respect, acceptance and inclusion in society.

The stakes today are the same, if not higher: digital access has become a lifeline, helping Americans to shop, work, access therapy, find emergency resources and connect socially.

“The conversation is changing and becoming more inclusive,” says Sagalyn. “Every anniversary of the ADA is a time to pause and celebrate progress, but also a time to look at emerging technology and instill in the business world the idea that now is the time to serve everyone. Digital accessibility done right can reach every human, every time.”

The payoff: Companies that are accessible are thriving

Digital accessibility is the law, but it’s also good for the bottom line.

Consumers today favor companies that do the right thing. In a recent survey, 88 percent of people say they would buy from a purpose-driven company and 66 percent say they would switch to one. And businesses are motivated to embrace accessible experiences because they care deeply about customer service and want to invest wisely in their future.

Examples of the rewards of this type of industry innovation and inclusion are everywhere. For example, if you help someone who is blind to access reading materials, you also help the person who has trouble reading or turning pages. That means you may also be helping someone with a learning disability or a mom using a device while holding a newborn. If a self-driving car is designed and tested with blind users in mind, it could also mean millions of people who are aging also have a new source of independence.

When business interests align with the original intent of the ADA, organizations can worry less about complying with the law and more about the opportunities to serve people with disabilities.

Another perk? Proximity breeds understanding.

“Involving people with disabilities in our partnerships with businesses, bringing users and experts together to evaluate products and services and provide insight into the user experience, benefits everyone,” says Sagalyn. “The work we do with companies is strategic and design-centered. It’s not about tacking on accessibility as an afterthought.”

To learn more about digital accessibility – no matter where you are on your journey – visit Perkins Access.

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