why-digital-accessibility-is-important-and-how-to-get-started-on-it-part-1
08 July

Why digital accessibility is important and how to get started on it, part 1

Hanna Kuznietsova
Table of contents
  1. Key takeaways
  2. Digital accessibility: Definition, reasons to use it, and types of disabilities it covers
  3. The state of web and email accessibility today
  4. Web and email accessibility: Where to start your journey
  5. Instead of wrapping up
1.
Key takeaways

Web and email accessibility is a hot topic. You’ve probably heard about the importance of making your website and emails accessible, but how exactly do you achieve this, and why is it essential?

Key takeaways

  1. Digital accessibility is crucial. It goes beyond legal compliance, granting digital independence to billions.
  2. There are five major types of disabilities, each uniquely impacting the user experience. We must consider them all to make emails accessible.
  3. Optimizing emails and websites for accessibility is less complicated than it seems. Start with the basics and then delve deeper into the subject.

Digital accessibility: Definition, reasons to use it, and types of disabilities it covers

Accessibility must be part of the natural evolution of technology.

Mike Paciello

Mike Paciello,

Interview with Forbes.

Web and email accessibility ensures that websites and emails are designed to be easily used by everyone, including people with disabilities.

The goal is to create an inclusive experience that allows all users, regardless of their physical abilities, to access information, navigate, and interact smoothly.

Why accessibility matters

Accessible digital content isn’t just a legal requirement; it’s a gateway to independence for millions of people. By making websites and emails easier to navigate, we open up a world of opportunities for those who might otherwise be left out. 

Social responsibility

Some of us are extremely lucky to be able to read, see, and tell colors. Making the web and emails accessible to those who are not this lucky is the least we can do.

Accessibility can be a personal thing.

Sarah Gallardo

Sarah Gallardo,

Lead email developer at Oracle.

In the world, 3.5 billion people currently have visual and cognitive impairments.

3.5bln

people have visual and cognitive impairments.

About half of the world’s population has some visual impairment. Just think about it: one of these people could be someone you know. The chances are that someone in your family or a friend can’t see colors or has trouble reading. Why not make their lives a little bit easier?

Legal requirements

Many countries actively protect the rights of people with disabilities by implementing laws and legal requirements.

Since this discussion specifically focuses on digital accessibility, let’s examine some relevant statistics. According to the “Americans with Disabilities Act” (ADA) report, in 2023 alone, the USA saw 4,600 lawsuits related to digital accessibility issues, with 97% targeting websites — totaling 4,462 cases.

4.462

website accessibility lawsuits filed in the US alone.

It’s important to note the dramatic increase in these numbers. For instance, in 2018, there were 2,314 lawsuits, which is almost half the number recorded in 2023.

Types of disabilities and impairments web and email accessibility covers

Email accessibility really matters because each and every one of your email recipients really matters. They’re people (not merely data records or email addresses) who receive your emails because they’ve engaged with your organization or have signed up to hear from your organization.

Paul Airy

Paul Airy,

Accessibility and usability consultant.

Yale University identifies five types of disabilities that can impact a user’s digital experience.

Visual disabilities

  1. Blindness: Blind individuals rely heavily on screen readers like VoiceOver for Mac and Microsoft Narrator for Windows and other assistive devices to interpret email content. Ensuring that websites and emails are compatible with these devices is essential to their ability to navigate the digital world effectively.
  2. Low vision: People with low vision often face difficulties reading emails and web content due to small font sizes, inadequate line spacing (less than 150%), and poor color contrast. 
  3. Color blindness: Those with color vision deficiency (CVD) struggle to distinguish certain colors, which can lead to confusion between colors like green and red, blue and purple, and lots of other combinations. This makes navigating information given and highlighted in colors for emphasis particularly challenging.

Vision issues affect web and email users.

Some striking statistics about blindness

  • 45 million people are totally blind, according to the WHO;
  • 2.2 billion people worldwide have trouble seeing, some even with glasses (the WHO);
  • 300 million people are color blind (1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women), per Color Blindness Awareness.

Types of color blindness _ Stripo

Cognitive, learning, and neurological disabilities

  1. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Individuals with ADHD have difficulty focusing on a single task or maintaining focus for extended periods, and they are easily distracted. Distracting elements like moving content or pop-up adverts can cause anxiety, so it’s crucial to provide clear instructions, avoid time limits, and ensure user control over these elements.
  2. Photosensitive epilepsy: This condition is triggered by flashing or contrasting lights. Flashing lights or multiple GIFs with 3 or more flashes per second can trigger seizures, so it’s important to avoid these elements or limit their use to prevent triggering photosensitive epilepsy.
  3. Dyslexia: Dyslexia involves difficulties with reading, spelling, and writing unrelated to intelligence or socioeconomic status. Dyslexic users struggle with italics, underlining, all-caps text, small fonts, and high contrast. Using more readable colors, like dark gray on off-white, and avoiding these formatting styles can improve accessibility. Clear, simple text and fonts designed for readability also help.

These issues affect web and email users.

Some striking statistics about cognitive issues

  • 6.8% of adults globally, or 366.3 million, have symptomatic ADHD, including those diagnosed at any age;
  • 5% of people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy;
  • 9-12% of the world’s population, or roughly every tenth person, has dyslexia, affecting between 720 million and 960 million people.

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Auditory/hearing impairments

  1. Hard of hearing/hearing loss: Involves hearing thresholds from 20 to 35 decibels (dB), affecting those with mild to severe hearing loss. Typically, these individuals use spoken language and may benefit from hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive technologies like captioning.
  2. Disabling hearing/deafness: People with hard of hearing and disabling hearing impairment can also experience difficulties with speaking, as hearing loss can impact the ability to learn and produce speech sounds accurately. This means it is always a good idea not to force them to give voice commands, to let them avoid voice searches, etc.

People with hard of hearing impairment or disabling hearing loss often experience difficulties with speaking, as hearing loss can impact their ability to learn and produce speech sounds accurately. Therefore, it’s best to avoid requiring voice commands or voice searches and provide alternatives like text-based options.

Some striking statistics about hearing impairment

  • 1.5 billion people, nearly 20% of the world’s population, experience hearing loss;
  • 430 million have disabling hearing loss, including 34 million children.

Both statistics are provided by the WHO.

It primarily affects web users, although it can also impact email users when videos are embedded in emails.

Motor/mobility/physical impairments

Physical and motor disabilities: This category includes individuals with difficulties in mobility, coordination, or manipulating devices due to conditions like tremors, lack of coordination, paralysis, joint disorders, pain, or missing limbs. These impairments can make it challenging to navigate websites with small clickable elements or interfaces that require precise movements.

These issues affect web and email users.

Some striking statistics about mobility impairment

  • 12.1%, which is 968 million, of the world’s population is reported to have motor disabilities, according to CDC. However, this number may be higher, as some people also experience temporary mobility loss.

Speech impairments

This category includes individuals with speech-related conditions like muteness, dysarthria, and stuttering. They may struggle with articulating sounds, pronouncing words, or maintaining fluency in speech. Therefore, they need the ability to type instead of talking, using voice commands, or using voice communication in any context. They also require the option of chatting via messengers rather than calling customer service.

These issues mainly affect web users.

Some striking statistics about speech impairment

  • 80 million people, which is 1% of the world’s population, stutter, according to the Stuttering Foundation.

The state of web and email accessibility today

Over half of the world’s population faces challenges with hearing, seeing, learning, speaking, clicking small objects on screens, distinguishing colors, or avoiding seizures from flashing objects. Most countries have regulations to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities.

But what is really happening in practice?

General guidelines we have now

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of international standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. These guidelines cover a wide range of recommendations for making web content more usable and accessible, including improving readability, navigation, and interaction. The WCAG standard is divided into three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA, with each level representing an increasing degree of accessibility.

By sticking to these guidelines, you can be sure that your website is completely accessible.

The guidelines for emails are a little bit different, which we will cover in our next article.

Current state of web and email accessibility today

Web accessibility started about 25 years ago, and email accessibility has been discussed for roughly the past ten years. So, let us see what the current state is.

Web accessibility state

  • 96.8% of the top million homepages failed ADA compliance testing; and
  • each of these pages had an average of 51.4 violations.
96.8%

of the top million homepages failed ADA compliance testing.

Common accessibility mistakes on websites

Since people with visual impairments cannot see your images, clear and descriptive alternative text is essential for effective communication.

Thomas Logan

Thomas Logan,

Accessibility consultant, owner of Equal Entry
  • missing informative, meaningful alternative text for images, graphs, and other visuals;
  • poor color contrast;
  • inaccessible forms;
  • attachments are not optimized for accessibility.

Sometimes, tables and attachments like PDFs are not accessible; forms are not logically identified. Additionally, poor color contrast is one of the most common pitfalls in web accessibility.

Mike Paciello

Mike Paciello,

Chief accessibility officer at AudioEye.

Email accessibility state

  • 99.97% of HTML emails tested contain issues categorized as “Serious” or “Critical,” according to the Accessibility report by the Email Markup Consortium.
99.97%

of HTML emails contain accessibility issues.

Common accessibility mistakes on websites

  • missing alt text for images and other visuals;
  • poor color contrast;
  • using colors alone to convey messages, like highlighting important information without text explanations;
  • absence of a plain-text version of the email;
  • emails not being optimized for screen readers.

We don’t want to brag, but it’s worth mentioning that all emails built with Stripo are fully optimized for screen readers.

While we’ve seen the various challenges and importance of accessibility, it’s time to take the first steps toward improvement. 

Web and email accessibility: Where to start your journey

Given the various types of disabilities and their impact on the user experience, making your emails and website accessible can seem overwhelming. However, it is easier than it appears.

To make it even easier and more accurate, experts in the field have shared their recommendations with us on this matter.

First steps in web accessibility

Expert

Thomas Logan
Founder | Accessibility consultant | Global speaker | ADA WCAG Section 508 | A11y Tokyo & A11y Virtual Reality & A11y NYC organizer | Owner of Equal Entry.

To get you started, you should:

  • focus on guidelines (WCAG) — they are the standard;
  • start small by polishing your homepage before moving on to other pages of your website.

Expert

Mike Paciello
Chief Accessibility Officer @ AudioEye | Founder, VP, Director, Author, Mentor.

Start with the following steps:

  • identify the problems to understand what needs to be fixed;
  • prioritize what users use the most;
  • then you can inject the actual fixes;
  • test… Always test the outcome.

You should “eat your own dog food.” We can’t build accessible tools and applications if they aren’t usable for people with disabilities. Have people with disabilities use your product, gather their feedback on their user experience, and improve your product accordingly.

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First steps in email accessibility

Expert

Sarah Gallardo
Lead email developer at Oracle | Email accessibility specialist | CPACC | Trusted tester.

The first steps should be:

  • make sure you meet color contrast requirements;
  • make sure you put alt text to your images — these are gonna be the easiest things to start with. These are going to be the easiest steps; and then
  • focus on coding strategies.

Instead of wrapping up

In the next article, we’ll delve deeper into the topic, exploring all the email accessibility guidelines shared by our experts.

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