December 21, 2016

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Is this the Era of Digital Discrimination?

Co-author- Sriram Santhanakrishnan

We’re living in the world of mobile applications with roughly 5 million apps developed, for 2 billion smartphone users reaching 200+ billion app downloads. We enjoy the convenience of booking a cab, ordering grocery, food, selecting a dress, reading the newspaper, navigation, bill payments, e-learning, and so on right from our fingertips. Mobile communications (m-sites and apps) have become ubiquitous, reaching out to even the most isolated and least served communities in many countries. Any business in today’s market that ignores its mobile presence does so at its own peril. This is thanks to the smartphone and app revolution which helps in making previously difficult activities easier for many people.

At the same time, it’s a sad fact that not all of us in the world are 100% healthy. About 1.3 billion people experience disability in one or the other form, like blindness, low vision, or disability of mobility, cognitive, speech and auditory. Differently-abled people continue to face challenges in accessing the basic amenities like education, employment, and healthcare. Governments all around the world have taken various initiatives to create job opportunities and design barrier-free, handicap accessible infrastructure for easier access.

However,

Accessibility cannot be limited to the physical world. It must transcend into the digital world as well.

We are transforming towards a digital world wherein we access a huge list of products and services through the software medium like web or mobile. The number and complexity of mobile websites and apps have increased substantially. We have only 140 mobile apps reported in GARI (Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative) which incorporate accessibility feature for Vision, Hearing/Speech, Cognition, and Dexterity. We strongly feel that digital applications are designed focusing on the able-bodied.

Microsoft took nearly 2 decades to understand the needs of the differently abled user group and released the first active accessibility pack in 1997, which made the desktop computer accessible for the differently abled community. As we are gearing up into a digital world, we all have a moral responsibility to take everyone together. We should make the digital medium truly accessible to everyone. It is high time for companies across the globe to think and design applications (Web, m-sites, and mobile apps) compliant to accessibility.

Incorporating accessibility services could render a huge impact in brand and enable better market penetration. External validation of accessibility features in your digital product/service will help you to understand the gaps and create an accessibility-ready product. Proper Documentation and Content management services will quicken the accessibility certificate for your product. In addition, the organization can create a handicap accessible customer support service to sweeten the services for differently abled customers.

The upfront investment involved for creating a 100% accessible compliant application is often a major cost concern for any organization. However, the ROI is easily achievable through an increase in the user base via market expansion. Also taking accessibility as a long-term strategic decision will encourage designers to create new insights by focusing on the unique needs and preferences of the differently abled people. By doing so, the resulting innovative product could become a USP or enhance brand image across all users.

Accessibility is not just an additional feature. Application developers should embrace accessibility in order to break the access barriers at the design stage and develop assistive-friendly apps. App makers should ensure that the same digital content is accessible via more than one medium (text, video, audio, vibration, etc.) for the end users.

An accessibility certification is not only a legal mandate but a life savior for creating a difference in the quality of life for many. As responsible human beings, we should be committed to creating an equal and integrated access for differently abled community. Let’s all work together to end this digital discrimination.

Reference:

  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/266210/number-of-available-applications-in-the-google-play-store/
  2. http://www.thehub.smsglobal.com/smartphone-ownership-usage-and-penetration
  3. https://mobiforge.com/research-analysis/global-mobile-statistics-2013-section-e-mobile-apps-app-stores-pricing-and-failure-rates
  4. https://www.gari.info/findapps-results.cfm
  5. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1258&context=gladnetcollect
  6. https://www.microsoft.com/enable/microsoft/history.aspx