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Online but Inaccessible

Sarah Steimer

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There are 56.7 million people in the U.S. with disabilities, but brands ignore many of them by failing to provide accessible web experiences

The internet was supposed to be the great equalizer, a place where any person—regardless of race, sex, color or creed—could access a wealth of knowledge. But as technology advanced and competition grew, online gatekeepers—marketers included—were smitten with the opportunity to make their websites more dynamic and exciting. They’ve chased after the latest design trends and taken back-end shortcuts to push out more content at a faster pace. But as organizations barreled forward, they unintentionally left a swath of consumers behind: people with disabilities.

The disabled community makes up about one-fifth of the U.S. population—a staggering number of potential consumers. An inaccessible website is akin to a storefront that lacks a wheelchair ramp: Someone may be interested in shopping with you, but you’ve made it virtually impossible for them to do so—at least independently.

For someone with a vision impairment, an inaccessible website may be one that can’t be easily navigated through a screen reader, software that allows users to read displayed text with a speech synthesizer or braille display. A person with auditory impairments may be unable to consume your video or podcast content if you failed to include subtitles or a transcription. Flashing graphics on a website or in a social media post could trigger a seizure in a person with epilepsy. Anyone whose mouse has stopped working can perhaps sympathize: If you can’t easily navigate to a link using the tab key, those who rely on assistive technology can’t access that content, either.

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Sarah Steimer

Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.