December 3rd is International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD). Sanctioned by the United Nations in 1992, the goal was to increase awareness, understanding and acceptance of people who have disabilities.
This year's theme, “The Future is Accessible,” seems like a perfect way to end a year in which accessibility, especially in email and digital media, has been an important topic of conversation and much debate.
According to the CDC, 26% of adults, or 61 million people in the U.S., have some type of disability. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Although accessibility has recently been a hot topic of discussion, there’s still a need for us all to gain a better understanding of people with disabilities and correct our collective missteps when it comes to creating content that is more accessible.
How can we help create a future that really is accessible?
Here are my top tips.
1) Stop and listen
As a parent of a child with a disability, it’s become very important for me to advocate and share my daughter’s experience with teachers and support personnel. However, now that she’s gotten older, it's time for me to take a back seat.
Her experience is her own, and if my voice is doing the talking, it diminishes her ability to speak up and have a voice. While it is important for people with disabilities to have allies and advocates, an ally’s job is to amplify the voices of those with disabilities, not to shout over them.
2) Individualize disability
People with disabilities are different from each other, even if they share similar challenges. Just because you know one person with a particular disability, doesn't mean you know everyone with that disability. There are people with dyslexia who love to read; people with vision impairments who have keen fashion sense; and people in wheelchairs who exercise way more than most of us.
Don't let your perceptions of what a disability is or isn't get in the way of learning more or overlooking specific needs. People with disabilities have their own individual experiences, strengths and challenges.
3) Check your digital content
As highlighted in our blog article, Is your email strategy inclusive?, when you make your email campaigns accessible, you’re not only demonstrating that you care enough to consider all of your potential customers and their specific needs, you’re also growing your customer base and complying with the law.
Now’s a great time to double check your digital content for accessibility issues. Take notes and acknowledge areas that need to be reworked in the upcoming year.
Making your emails more accessible does not require a total overhaul. It may be as simple as making a few code or design adjustments. Assess your current emails, and if you find issues, consider conducting an accessibility audit for a more thorough review.
4) Be open
Did you know that in many cases, before a person or group files an accessibility lawsuit, they have reached out several times about their accessibility issues and concerns? This feedback is essential for pinpointing flaws within our systems and digital communication.
Does your organization have a system in place for escalating these complaints to the right internal departments? If not, you might suggest that they create one. Having an open communication model for addressing deficits is critical for an accessible future.
5) Speak up
Be an advocate. If you’re not actively bringing the experience of people with disabilities into your project meetings, you may be doing a disservice to your company and to people with disabilities that use the services it provides.
Not sure where to start? I've got three words for you, “Is this accessible”?
You don't have to know everything about accessibility or have a personal connection with someone who has a disability to start asking questions and looking for answers. Just by asking this simple question, you’re opening the door for people who have these experiences and inviting knowledge in.
Do your research and make sure that everyone involved in the email creation process understands email accessibility. If someone suggests something that is not accessible, raise a red flag. Being an advocate can be a great opportunity for you to be a thought leader and bring the importance of accessibility to the table.
Want more specific technical information on how you can make your emails more accessible? Download our e-book, Achieving accessibility in email marketing.
Accessibility really doesn’t need to be time-consuming or take a lot of work. Every step you take to make improvements, no matter how big or small, will bring us one step closer to ensuring that all people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
Together, we can help create a more accessible future for us all.