According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 2 billion people live with a disability. Millions of Americans use assistive technologies daily to help them access web content. This article will provide an overview on what assistive technology looks like, why it should matter to attorneys and the importance of investing in an accessible website.
What is Assistive Technology?
According to the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), “assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”
Assistive technologies include low-tech solutions as well as high-tech solutions, and they can include inclusive options designed to support everyone (like an automatic door opener on a building) as well as specialized materials for a particular audience (like a sign written in Braille).
Examples of Assistive Technology
Lower-tech examples of assistive technology can include pencil grips and audio recording devices or phone apps.
Higher-tech examples of assistive technology can include speech to text programs, text to speech programs, and predictive text functionality.
There are a variety of common accessibility features that can be incorporated into a website. Some of these include:
- Audio Descriptions – This is a narration that describes the important visual details in a video. Narration can take place during a pause in the audio or as a separate multimedia file.
- Captions – Captions document exactly what’s spoken during a speech, with descriptions of any additional relevant audio (for instance, a note of background music or a car alarm).
- Consistency and Predictability – Consistent labeling of links, buttons and other website design elements make it easier for the user to navigate and understand.
- Customized Fonts and Colors – Font types, colors, sizes and spacing can be adjusted to make it easier to read the text.
- Progressive Disclosure – This is a design technique that minimizes the amount of information displayed to help the user focus on only the most important content for a given task.
- Screen Magnification – This is a tool to enlarge or reduce the text size and images to make the content easier to see.
- Text-to-speech – Sometimes referred to as “speech synthesis” or “speech output”, this is an automatic conversation of text into a computerized voice that reads the text out loud.
- Transcript – This is a document that captures a speech in the correct order and with any important auditory or visual information.
- Visual Orientation Cues – Web designers may use background colors, headings and placement to help with navigation.
- Voice Recognition – This is software that can be used to dictate text or commands.
Why Should Attorneys Care?
There are two main reasons to care about building and maintaining an accessible website. The first is that an accessible website helps you attract and maintain clients. You probably already have some clients who rely on assistive technology for help hearing or seeing, for instance. Ample contrast on a screen, headings and captions support everyone, whether they are living with disabilities or not, and it makes sure people don’t dismiss the opportunity to work with you because your website isn’t useful or usable for them. In addition, an accessible website can be a differentiating factor over your competition.
The second reason that attorneys should care is because accessibility lawsuits and litigation are increasing. They increased by as much as 181% in the US from 2017 to 2018, and in 2020, nearly ten digital accessibility lawsuits were filed each business day in the U.S. (UsableNet). It’s worth getting ahead of the curve on this by making some common sense changes to your website design.
Your law firm’s website needs to be accessible to deliver value to all site visitors and help you to stay competitive. If you’re not yet ready for complete site accessibility remediation, begin by taking small steps like adding alternative text to each of your images and making sure to adjust the color contrast as needed on your website.
These changes won’t just help your clients and potential clients who have disabilities. They’ll also make your website easier to navigate for everyone else.