Digital Accessibility During a Crisis

Posted on Wednesday, 25 March 2020 by Marissa Sapega

2020 will forever be known for the global pandemic of the COVID-19 virus, which has forced hundreds of millions of people to substantially increase their reliance on technology. We already rely on the internet for hundreds of everyday tasks from the minor (like checking the weather) to the more critical (reading updates on the latest virus updates). But what happens when the internet suddenly transforms from a convenience to a necessity?

The criticality of the internet

The novel coronavirus has shut down schools, shuttered thousands of restaurants, and caused hordes of people to run to Wal-Mart in a mad dash to snag the last roll of toilet paper. With quarantine measures and “social distancing” guidelines in place to attempt to stem the spread, people have turned to the internet to complete vital tasks that can no longer be accomplished outside the home.

Employees are working remotely, families are ordering groceries online for delivery or pickup to avoid coming in contact with others in the supermarket, and friends are hosting virtual get-togethers to connect with others without actually being face-to-face. The internet makes all this possible for most of us, but what about those with disabilities who are unable to use it?

This sudden reliance on digital technology has thrust the harsh truth of inaccessibility into stark clarity. This is a situation in which inaccessible digital content is no longer just an inconvenience for people, but one that results in a severely reduced quality of life.

Education and the internet

As schools temporarily close their doors and turn to online learning as an alternative, the ability for all students to be able to access the content becomes a priority. The US Office of Civil Rights created a short webinar, “Online Education and Website Accessibility,” that highlighted the need for considering students with varying levels of ability when transitioning to online content.

The OCR reminded schools that online learning tools need to be accessible to everyone. This extends to the platform used to house content, the method teachers are using to distribute the content (for example, video conferencing or webinars), the way students are expected to engage with the content, and more.

Schools are already used to offering physical accommodations to students but now need to consider digital accommodations as well. Students may use screen readers or other tools to help them engage with online content and schools need to be aware of this so they can coordinate efforts to accommodate them.

Online banking, grocery shopping, and healthcare

As quarantine measures are put in place, going to a bank to conduct business transactions may become less feasible or even impossible. For those with limited mobility, grocery delivery can be a lifeline for food and staple products they need to survive. Getting the most up to date information on public health announcements and telemedicine options are critical for everyone, especially for the more vulnerable parts of the population, which often include people with disabilities. It is for these reasons and more that internet accessibility needs to extend to everyone, not just those without disabilities.

Do you know if the critical user paths are accessible on your website or app? If not, now is the perfect time to find out. Get a free automated accessibility scan, learn more about our manual accessibility reviews, or contact us today to learn more about TPG can help you better serve your customers during a difficult time.


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