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Digital Inclusion: How Can We Prioritize Accessibility in the Cloud?

Shane Quinlan

4 min read

Last updated on February 15th, 2024 at 1:28pm

Technology is playing an increasingly vital role in our day-to-day lives. It seems as if some sort of device, whether it is a smartphone, computer, tablet, or the software they contain, is needed each day. Nowadays, the software we use is moving from physical computers and local servers to the cloud. This global digital transformation is positively impacting the way people and organizations work and interact, but at the same time, those with certain disabilities are unnecessarily left behind.

Cloud computing can offer significant benefits for organizations of all sizes and verticals and for their IT teams, regardless of their technical expertise. Further, the cloud has the potential to empower people with visual, learning, age-related, mobility, hearing and speech disabilities with opportunities to engage and more easily collaborate. Unfortunately, however, cloud products have historically had a poor user experience (UX), forcing folks with disabilities out of the cloud workforce. And if you look at the current state of digital accessibility, this should come as no surprise, as only 3% of the internet is considered accessible.

There's an opportunity here, for sure. But if we want to make the most out of this opportunity, then we need to prioritize accessibility, especially with the way we’re building cloud products, from our design systems to production applications.

Greater Accessibility is a Win-Win

Digital inclusion has become an increasingly hot topic in the technology industry, but it’s important to remember that accessibility is more than just a trend—it’s a human right. Besides the social responsibility, there are a few other reasons why accessibility should be a top priority for your company:

  • Market Reach - The fact of the matter is that 1 in 4 U.S. adults and over 15% of the world live with a disability, and the World Health Organization (WHO) says this number continues to increase. Moreover, WHO claims that every person will likely experience some form of disability at some point in life.
  • User Experience (UX) - Best accessibility practices are also best usability practices and best digital design practices. All users, regardless of whether they’re disabled, want software applications that provide them with a number of options for usability. For example, accessibility features such as assistive technologies offer flexible ways to interact with digital assets that all users can appreciate. Ultimately, it is important to remember that good UX makes customers and employees alike happy and accessibility is a big driver towards that end.
  • Legal Compliance - According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) digital access is described as the ability for users, including those with disabilities, to easily navigate and understand content on websites, mobile applications or other electronic-based information. Non-compliant websites and mobile applications can lead to lawsuits for all businesses, regardless of size. Each suit could cost a business up to $350,000. Additionally, Section 508 includes a legal mandate for any federal agency to develop or procure accessible software. This means that accessibility is a default requirement for any company working with a federal agency.

The Greater the Accessibility, the Greater the Product

Many of the larger, “trend setting” companies are already improving accessibility with their products. For instance, Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft have recently joined forces to create greater accessibility with their products. The “voice-first” project that they are working on in partnership with the University of Illinois, is aimed at advancing voice recognition technology. This could be a great step to take. If all businesses, even if they don’t have the resources or budget of Microsoft, worked to increase accessibility with their products we can work together to create a more inclusive and accessible tech scene.

The bottom line is that we shouldn’t pursue accessibility because we want to expand our market reach. We should pursue accessibility because it's a crucial trait of a quality product, and having a quality product should always be the ultimate plan for attracting new customers. If the products that enable access to the cloud are excluding people with disabilities, then a great deal of talent will be cut out of the cloud landscape as a whole. The industry has a long way to go as a whole, but with a commitment to improve it each day, we can continue to move it forward.

About the Author

Shane Quinlan

Shane is the VP of Product at Kion.

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