The relationship between technology and autism services has been a focus of my thinking and writing lately. It’s an urgent topic that I feel deserves attention, but it’s also led me to a broader conversation about inclusivity (or lack thereof) of technology for the larger disabled community. As our lives become increasingly enmeshed with technology—phones at our fingertips, brick and mortar retail locations rapidly disappearing, the supremacy of social media and e-commerce—the need for technology that can accommodate the disabled community is at once something that must be a priority, yet is often either left ignored by businesses or unaddressed because they lack the knowledge and ability to make their websites ADA compliant.
In search of more information about this landscape and the “state-of-play” when it comes to websites and online life generally becoming more accessible for disabled individuals, I spoke with WCAG (Website Content Accessibility Guidelines) Compliance Specialist and Founder and CEO of ZenythGroup, Daryn Harpaz. Our conversation revealed some curious information, statistics that should scare and incentivize business leaders, and insights that should give us all a better idea about the status quo informing current inclusivity efforts for disabled individuals online.
The first thing to know is that it’s impossible to have this discussion without mentioning the Americans with Disabilities Act which passed in 1990. As Daryn explained it, officially, there is no legislation holding private sector websites accountable for accessibility, as the law predated the prevalence of the internet as we use it today. However, guidelines put together by the World Wide Web Consortium have essentially been adopted as precedent, and those guidelines are confirmed by the Department of Justice. Lawsuits pursuant to accessibility compliance are being upheld by the courts, so while nothing is instantiated by law, it’s becoming a must for businesses to ensure their websites are fully accessible to the disabled community.
“Currently there’s a [accessibility] lawsuit being filed at the rate of one per hour in America. And these are lawsuits most prominently bought by the plaintiff side—a blind plaintiff who is not able to access a website using a screen reader and a keyboard,” Daryn told me. While vision impaired people (4.6% of the disabled population in America) struggling with assistive technologies online represent the majority of the lawsuits we’re seeing, guidelines cover a much wider spectrum of conditions, and so solutions need to address the same.
Individuals disabled in some way—including autistic individuals or people with epilepsy—comprise about 15% of our population in America, or 61 million people. Add to that the fact that 40% of US adults over the age of 65 have one or more disabilities (many of whom would benefit greatly from more accessible websites due to vision loss and motor functioning complexities) and the market is too large to be ignored. Yet, many businesses still aren’t addressing the issue properly.
POST WRITTEN BY Ronit Molko
Ronit Molko, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is an Autism Industry authority, speaker, and ForbesBooks author of Autism Matters.