Democratizing digital access with SiteAccessibilityBy Lorenzo Spina on June 5, 2023 - 5 Minute Read
Tech has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives. Many of us take tech for granted, but not everyone can. This is a story about equal access to tech and what we at Peak are doing to make a difference.
Over the past few decades, we’ve witnessed a digital revolution. Whole new industries like fintech and ecommerce have been born. Digitalization of products and services has changed the way we live and work – from the creation of the Internet to new house guests in the form of virtual voice assistants like Alexa and Siri.
In tech, we often think we’ve taken a step forward before realizing we’ve left a lot of society behind. More often than not, it’s those who are already facing extraordinary challenges, such as Disabled and neurodivergent people, who are left behind.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates around 15% of the global population identify as having a Disability and the number is increasing. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that Disabled people with disabilities are at least 15% more likely to be unemployed and earn 22% less than their non-disabled counterparts.
Meanwhile it is estimated that only 66% of Disabled people use the Internet, in comparison to 92% of non-disabled people. This is despite the fact that 78% of Disabled people say they do or would benefit from digital access.
As a talent leader, I see firsthand how unequal digital access can impact people’s ability to access employment opportunities – a common issue that contributes to Disabled people being underrepresented in tech companies.
How tech leaves Disabled people behind
One of the reasons Disabled people find using the web harder is because most websites aren’t designed with them in mind. The practice of making the web accessible to Disabled people is called digital accessibility and, unfortunately, it’s not often a priority of web designers.
As an example, websites are incredibly busy these days. You’ve probably seen it yourself, you open a website and a video is already playing. You scroll down to find advertisements, links and animations all begging for your attention. Then a pop up bar springs into action offering you a special discount, or asking you for your privacy preferences. It’s a lot to take in.
Modern dynamic web pages like this can be difficult for many Disabled people to navigate. For instance, people with dyslexia can find it difficult to read text especially when it’s written in a small typeface that groups letters closely together. This can make it difficult for people with dyslexia to complete critical tasks online — like job searches and paying bills.
The web is especially challenging for people who partially sighted or blind. Often they a use a screen reader, which reads the text on the page to them. The screen reader can also read out audio descriptions of any images on the site.
But for this to happen, the person building a webpage needs to write descriptions for each image (this is called “alt text”) for each image. Writing image descriptions like this can be time-consuming, so a lot of people either don’t write them, or they write really bad descriptions that don’t capture the full context of the image. This means people who are partially sighted or blind get a much worse experience of the web.
Digital access is a diversity, equity and inclusion issue
We know the tech industry has been trying to become more diverse for years, but it’s yet to make the massive strides it needs to see equal representation of women, people of color, Disabled people and many more underrepresented groups. That’s not necessarily for lack of trying.
The problem is businesses have used “equality of opportunity” as a measure of how accessible their business is to diverse talent. This approach assumes that if opportunities are made equally available to everyone, diverse talent will come through and eventually businesses will represent the communities they work in. The problem with this assumption is it’s wrong. Not everyone has the same resources or faces the same barriers to working in tech.
This is why we talk about diversity and inclusion in combination with equity. Equity recognizes that different groups will face different barriers, and that we need to play our part in lifting those barriers. Ultimately, equity is about leveling the playing field so everyone can take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority for Peak. Since our founding, it’s been our ambition to ensure Peak feels like a place where everyone feels included, where differences are seen as an asset and celebrated. It means making sure Peak reflects the diversity of people in the regions we operate in.
As a tech company, we knew we could do more to leverage technology to increase digital access for Disabled people on our careers page. And that’s how our partnership with SiteAccessibility began.
A tech problem with a tech solution
SiteAccessibility is a UK-based company on a mission to help businesses make their websites more accessible for everyone, offering tools and services that optimize website accessibility. One of the most exciting tools SiteAccessibility offers is its AI-Powered Accessibility Widget, which we recently launched for the Peak careers page.
The widget has been developed in consultancy with a website accessibility specialist to meet international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The widget is designed to improve web content accessibility for a number of different types of disabilities and neuordivergences, with website visitors able to choose from a menu. For instance, people with vision impairments can use the widget’s AI to create image descriptions that their screen readers can use to describe images.
People with dyslexia can activate a dyslexic-friendly mode that makes the font more readable for them. It also allows them to pause distracting animations and enable a reading mask to help them focus.
We’re really excited to take this step. But we know we’re just getting started and that there’s loads more to do. We’ll share more about our partnership with Site Accessibility and our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy in the coming weeks.