Author: Giulia Bergamasco, European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD)

Digitalisation has changed many aspects of our daily routines. Thanks to digital innovation, we are now accustomed to relying on digital tools and services for core daily activities and tasks. Moreover, the Covid-19 social distancing requirements have considerably increased the use of technology as a tool that helps us to work, study, socialise, entertain and manage bureaucracy.

Since digital tools and services are now becoming more and more essential, it is crucial to ensure that such technologies are accessible to everyone.

What is digital accessibility?

Ahite dashboard with three blue buttons with graphic icons (whellchair, deaf,  man with a cane)

Today, it is more important than ever to recognise that end-users have different needs; such diversity should always be taken into account throughout the design and implementation process of digital contents and tools.

Unfortunately, digital products and services are far too often designed and implemented following a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. As a consequence, persons with visual, auditory, motor, speech and cognitive impairments may encounter digital obstacles that make it difficult for them to carry out even the simplest tasks – like reading information on a website or managing their online bank account. As a consequence, persons with disabilities may find it challenging to independently take advantage of the benefits arising from digital innovation.

We refer to digital accessibility to describe the practice of making digital tools or services accessible to everyone, including persons with disabilities. A website, mobile application or electronic document is accessible when it can be easily navigated and understood by a wide range of users. For instance, a video can be accessible when it provides captions or transcripts that help persons with hearing impairments to understand the video content. Similarly, it is easier for a person with a visual impairment to read a text when the colour contrast ratio between the said text and its background is high. Also, documents should be “readable” for screen readers.

Sharing knowledge on how to ensure digital inclusiveness

Digital accessibility means that everyone should be offered the opportunity to benefit from digitalisation. It is also important to stress the fact that digital accessibility is not only an ethical obligation: it is also a legal requirement.

To solve the root of the problem, it is crucial to develop ad-hoc training programmes on the topics of barrier-free web design and design for all. In order to acquire a better understanding of existing needs in the fields of accessibility and digital skills development for the inclusion of people with disabilities and older people, the ENTELIS+ consortium has developed a consultation questionnaire aimed at collecting stakeholders’ views and opinions. Its results highlighted a potential gap regarding the existence of accessible courses, support & counselling on accessibility and hosting/booking external accessible courses.

The ENTELIS+ project could fill this gap both through offering courses on accessibility and by training staff members within the organisations.

Such training would allow key stakeholders (public sector employees, web developers, web designers) to become familiar with the concept of digital accessibility, develop new key competences, be made aware of the legal requirements in this field and to become accessibility ambassadors who could replicate this training within their organisations.

With regards to web designers and software developers, such training could also positively influence their interest in taking into account persons with disabilities’ feedback in the design phase of their product/service.

Raising awareness and providing training on the topic of digital accessibility would have several positive effects for society as a whole. It would allow for progress to be made in the development of more inclusive, accessible and non-discriminatory digital tools and services.