Why Digital Accessibility and Sustainability Go Hand-in-Hand

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In this post, we explore the connection between digital accessibility and sustainability for websites, apps, and other digital products.

Consider these statistics:

As a Certified B Corp, we strive for sustainability and inclusivity in everything we do. As a digital agency, we believe that the internet can and should be accessible to everyone. In the case of digital accessibility, more inclusive design choices are also more sustainable choices.

Here’s why…

Digital Accessibility and Sustainability

We blog a lot about sustainability and sustainable web design. Considering the lifecycle and users of digital products ensures we get the right content in front of those who need it when they need it, without barriers, and using as few resources as possible. This includes anyone who might use assistive devices such as screen readers, hearing aids, or other enabling technologies.

Universal access is a key part of all sustainability frameworks, whether you’re talking about websites and email campaigns or energy, water, and sanitation. In fact, reduced inequality is one of the U.N.’s seventeen sustainable development goals. Accessible websites give people with disabilities the ability to experience content in more meaningful ways. However, accessibility is also good for the planet:

When working on Web accessibility, one finds frequently that some practices result in reducing the size of pages, or the amount of data transferred to the user. Furthermore, an accessible Web site is generally simpler and therefore faster to view, not only for users with disabilities. Every small earning…humbly contributes to the global effort. Much rather like those soda cans you throw in the right recycling bin: this is not what will fundamentally change things; but things will not change unless we do at least our share.

— French Open Web Group, Accessibility is Good for the Planet

In other words, create something that removes barriers to your content and, in many cases, speeds up the process of accessing it, and you use less resources. Oftentimes, you have happier users as well. Win win win.

In a fast-paced world, having well-structured content that is written in plain language helps people get what they need and act on it. Numbers vary, but a sizable portion of the population has a disability that can affect how they use the web. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) push for sites to be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust.

— Mike Gifford, CivicActions

But what, specifically, does that mean?

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) released by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative are meant to serve as the standard for creating more accessible websites and digital products. WCAG 2.0 recommends that digital content follow four guidelines:

  • Perceivable: people should be able to clearly perceive web content using multiple senses, such as sight, sound, and touch.
  • Operable: users should be able to interact with web content using a variety of adaptive devices, including keyboard, mouse, screen reader, etc. etc.
  • Understandable: interaction with web content should be easy for as many people as possible to understand.
  • Robust: web content should work well across browsers and platforms, including assistive technologies.

In future posts of this series, we’ll dig deep into each of these categories to help you improve existing websites and digital products for better accessibility. We’ll talk about how to run accessibility audits. We will also explore the differences between accessibility and inclusive design. No single tool will instantaneously make your website or digital product WCAG 2.0-compliant. This requires vigilance and education.

Conclusion: Making the Web Accessible to All

The B Corp endgame is one where all of society enjoys a shared and durable prosperity. This vision is inclusive of all people. We have a responsibility to be sure our content does not exclude people with disabilities. If you have questions about whether or not your website or digital product is accessible or what can be done to improve performance for people with disabilities, feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to help you figure that out.

Get Our Web Accessibility Checklist

This free download includes an introduction to web accessibility and a handy checklist of ways to improve your website or digital products.

Download the Checklist
Tim Frick founded Mightybytes in 1998 to help mission-driven organizations solve problems, amplify their impact, and meet business and marketing goals. He is the author of four books, including Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services from O'Reilly Media. Follow Tim on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.