Accessible Information & Communication Technology

According to the Advocacy Action Network, there are more than 874,000 Kentuckians with disabilities. Many of these disabilities could potentially create barriers that directly affect their ability to access digital information.

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Digital accessibility is essential because it ensures that websites, apps, and digital content are usable by everyone, including those with disabilities. It promotes inclusivity by allowing individuals with various impairments to access and interact with digital information and services independently. This not only benefits people with disabilities but also improves the user experience for everyone, leading to a more diverse and equitable online experience.

Accessible digital content includes websites and documents that are designed with clear navigation, descriptive alternative text for images, and compatibility with screen readers for visually impaired users. It also includes videos with captions and transcripts for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, as well as proper color contrast for users with low vision. Using simple and easy-to-understand language instead of complex jargon will ensure that information is easily comprehensible to a wide audience.

Inaccessible digital content might lack proper heading structures, making it difficult for screen reader users to navigate. Images without alternative text create a barrier for users who rely on screen readers to understand visual content. Forms without proper labels can be confusing for users with cognitive disabilities or those using screen readers. Videos without captions or transcripts are also examples of inaccessible content. Websites and forms that rely heavily on mouse interactions without providing keyboard alternatives can be inaccessible to users with mobility impairments. Additionally, websites that use overly complex language or technical terminology without explanations can create barriers for users with limited literacy or cognitive impairments.

The 4 Principles of Digital Accessibility

The four principles of accessible digital content are outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C):

1. Perceivable

perceivable: (adjective) capable of being perceived especially by sight or hearing.

Information and user interface components must be presented in a way that users can perceive. This includes providing text alternatives for non-text content (like images), ensuring content can be presented in different ways without losing meaning and making it easier for users to see and hear content.

Examples of Perceivable Content:

  • Providing alternative text for images
  • Including captions and transcripts for audio and video content
  • Ensuring sufficient color contrast for text and background
  • Offering resizable text options for users with low vision
  • Using clear and easy-to-read fonts and typography
  • Providing audio descriptions for video content to describe visual elements for users who are blind or have low vision
  • Ensuring that form fields have visible and descriptive labels to assist screen reader users

2. Operable

operable: (adjective) able to be used.

User interface components and navigation must be operable. This means users should be able to navigate and interact with content using various input methods, such as keyboard navigation or voice commands. Additionally, users should have enough time to read and use the content, and the content should not cause seizures or physical reactions.

Examples of Operable Content:

  • Ensuring all functionality is available using keyboard navigation
  • Providing clear and consistent navigation menus and controls
  • Allowing users to pause, stop, or adjust automatically moving content
  • Avoiding content that causes seizures or other physical reactions
  • Ensuring users have enough time to read and interact with content
  • Implementing skip navigation links to allow users to bypass repetitive content and jump to main sections of a webpage
  • Ensuring that clickable elements, such as buttons and links, are large enough and have enough space between them to be easily targeted by users with mobility impairments
  • Providing clear and concise instructions for completing tasks, such as filling out forms or completing transactions

3. Understandable

understandable: (adjective) capable of being understood; understood; comprehensible.

Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable. This involves using clear and simple language, providing predictable and consistent navigation, and helping users avoid and correct mistakes.

Examples of Understandable Content:

  • Using plain language and avoiding jargon or complex terminology
  • Providing clear instructions and error messages in forms and applications
  • Organizing content in a logical and predictable manner
  • Using consistent and intuitive navigation and layout
  • Offering help and guidance for complex tasks or processes
  • Using meaningful and descriptive headings and labels to help users understand the purpose and context of content
  • Breaking down complex information into digestible chunks and using bullet points or lists to improve readability

4. Robust

robust: (adjective) strong and unlikely to break or fail.

Content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This means using technologies that are compatible with different browsers and devices, ensuring that content remains accessible as technologies evolve.

Examples of Robust Content:

  • Using semantic HTML markup to ensure content is correctly interpreted by browsers and assistive technologies
  • Ensuring compatibility with a wide range of browsers, devices, and assistive technologies
  • Testing and validating code to ensure it meets accessibility standards
  • Updating content and technologies to remain accessible as standards evolve
  • Validating code using tools like W3C Markup Validation Service to ensure compliance with HTML and CSS standards
  • Providing text-based alternatives for content that relies on multimedia formats, such as providing transcripts for audio content
  • Using responsive design techniques to ensure that websites adapt and display correctly across different screen sizes and devices
  • Ensuring that web pages are designed with progressive enhancement, meaning they can function even if certain features or technologies are not supported
  • Regularly updating and maintaining websites to address compatibility issues and ensure ongoing accessibility compliance

State and federal laws on accessibility

Several states in the United States have enacted accessibility laws or have adopted accessibility standards for various purposes, including digital accessibility. Some states have laws specifically addressing accessibility in areas such as public accommodations, transportation, or information and communication technology (ICT), while others may have broader disability rights legislation that includes provisions related to accessibility. The Section508.gov website has a sampling of state-level accessibility laws and policies.

In Kentucky, there is the Kentucky Accessible Information Technology (AIT) Law (KRS 61.980 to 61.988). Under this law, the head of each covered entity (i.e. the state and other state-assisted organizations) shall ensure that all information technology equipment and software it uses for employees, program participants and the general public, will provide individuals with disabilities with access “that is equivalent to the access provided individuals who are not disabled” (KRS 61.982).

As a means of determining conformity with this provision, Kentucky law further defines that the level of access provided by covered entities must be in compliance with section 255 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 access standards (36 C.F.R. 1194).

Further, any contract for the procurement of information or telecommunication technology by, or for the use of, a covered entity, as defined in KRS 61.890(4), shall include a Technology Access Clause which shall be in compliance with section 255 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 access standards (36 C.F.R. 1194) and shall establish alternative, including non-visual, access standards for use in the procurement of information technology by covered entities.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a law that requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. This includes things like websites, software, and digital documents. The law aims to ensure that everyone, including people with disabilities, can access and use these technologies without barriers.

This means federal agencies must design, develop, and maintain their digital products in a way that accommodates various disabilities, such as visual, auditory, or motor impairments. Compliance with Section 508 helps promote equal access to information and services for all individuals, regardless of their abilities.

Section 255 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996

Section 255 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities, if readily achievable. This means that companies that make telecommunication equipment or provide services, like phones or internet services, must consider how people with disabilities can use them. They need to make changes that are reasonable and do not cost too much. These changes might include adding features like volume controls or screen readers so that people with disabilities can use the products or services more easily. The goal of this law is to make sure that everyone, including people with disabilities, can use and benefit from modern telecommunications technology.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) is a law designed to ensure that people with disabilities have access to modern communication and video technologies. It mandates that smartphones, internet services, and other communication tools are usable by individuals with disabilities. Additionally, the law requires that video programming on television and the internet include features like closed captions and video description to aid accessibility. Moreover, it stipulates that communication equipment and services must be compatible with assistive devices such as hearing aids. In essence, the CVAA strives to make communication and video technology accessible to all, regardless of disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility by requiring covered entities, such as businesses and state and local governments, to ensure that their digital content and services are accessible to individuals with disabilities. While the ADA was enacted in 1990, before the widespread use of the internet and digital technologies, courts have interpreted it to apply to websites, mobile applications, electronic documents, and other ICT.

Under Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation, entities that provide goods, services, or programs through the internet are required to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to those offerings. This includes ensuring that websites and digital services are navigable by screen readers, compatible with assistive technologies, and designed in a way that accommodates various disabilities.

Overall, the ADA’s application to ICT accessibility emphasizes the principle of equal access for individuals with disabilities to the digital resources and services provided by covered entities, ensuring inclusivity and nondiscrimination in the digital realm.

Learn more about creating and testing accessible digital content…

The KATS Network is pleased to offer an updated version of our “Accessibility Matters” quick cards*.  These free printable cards offer simple but often overlooked tips and advice that you can immediately incorporate into your day-to-day workflow.

* Thank you to the Minnesota Office of Accessibility for creating the original Accessibility Matters quick cards and allowing us to adapt and share them with you.

Accessibility Matters Quick Cards (PDF)

Below are some practical tips and valuable resources for ensuring that your Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, and webpages are accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. Whether you’re a business professional, educator, content creator, or web developer, these resources will equip you with the knowledge and tools needed to make your digital content inclusive and compliant with accessibility standards. From understanding the importance of accessibility to implementing specific techniques and utilizing assistive technologies, we’re here to support you in creating documents that can be effectively navigated and understood by everyone. Let’s make the digital world more accessible, one document at a time!