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Bringing Online Content to Everyone: The Importance of Digital Accessibility in the New Economy

Ajit Kara, CEO, Tag Americas

Brands need to redouble their efforts to reach as many people as possible online, or risk being left behind.

In June 2022, members of the European Union are set to pass legislation aimed at increasing digital accessibility for people with disabilities — a major step forward in the effort to guarantee that everyone in society can access whatever online content they need. It’s also a wake-up call for brands, including U.S. companies that do business in the EU, who will be under increasing scrutiny to ensure the content and technology across their websites, apps, touch-screen displays, and e-commerce platforms align with any new regulations. 

Digital accessibility will affect everything brands do going forward, and they need to start planning for that now. Microsoft, for example, has launched its AI for Accessibility program to spur investment in AI-powered innovations, seeking to empower more tech use among people with disabilities. The program has funded initiatives ranging from inclusive hiring technologies, such as accessible and intuitive chatbots that ease the application and interview process, to AI-powered apps that help people with disabilities perform routine manufacturing jobs. 

Much of the discussion surrounding digital equity has focused on computer literacy and access to high-speed internet; for example, U.S. Congress allocated $2.75 billion in November 2021 to promote workplace training programs and broadband expansion in underserved communities. But the issue of digital accessibility for people with disabilities has received far less attention, despite some landmark cases — including a Supreme Court ruling three years ago that said Domino’s must make its pizza-ordering websites and apps as ADA-compliant as its physical locations. 

Beyond the legal and moral arguments for increased accessibility, it also makes good business sense. One in four Americans has a disability, according to the CDC, and as more commerce is conducted digitally, both as a result of the pandemic and the rise of apps and smartphones, brands need to redouble their efforts to reach as many people as possible online, or risk being left behind. There’s a new economy emerging around tech-forward, contract-free customer service — from handheld shopping devices to QR codes to virtual marketing and sales events — and accessibility is critical in ensuring that all consumers and brands can take part. 

To be sure, the widespread adoption of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) in such diverse fields as healthcare, construction and retail is promising; allowing customers with disabilities to “try on” clothes in a VR setting, for example, could revolutionize the showroom experience. Consumers are predicted to spend almost $21 billion on VR and AR by next year, and the tech’s potential role in accessibility efforts is vast.

But there’s still a long way to go. According to an annual analysis of the world’s top million websites, 97% of them failed a basic accessibility test — meaning they featured such easily fixable mistakes as low-contrast text, a lack of alternative text for images or a design or interface known to be difficult to navigate for people with disabilities. And shopping sites, despite being subject to numerous complaints and lawsuits from consumers, ranked among the least accessible. 

On a broader level, businesses should carefully consider the accessibility impact of the fonts, color choices, audio-visual elements and layout decisions in their ad campaigns and marketing materials, as well as offer closed-captioned videos, available in all relevant languages and translations, across social media and other platforms.  

Tag works with brand leaders who are committed to inclusive and equitable access to their products and services. We have the creative expertise and technology to produce the right content to reach every customer.  

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