Issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Transportation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards ensure places are accessible to people with disabilities. These standards apply to publicly accessible physical spaces, including both public and private places like libraries and restaurants, as well as government and commercial facilities like the Department of Motor Vehicles and sports stadiums.
Oftentimes, when people hear the term “accessibility,” or specifically “ADA compliance,” they think only of wheelchair ramps, elevators and parking spots offered to assist the 20.6 million people who have serious difficulties when walking or climbing stairs; however, accessibility and ADA compliance extend beyond just physical spaces.
Section 508 of the ADA specifically applies to accessibility of online materials. This set of standards was created by the US government to apply specifically to digital materials on government websites. While it’s only required that government websites and libraries that are the recipients of federal funds through the Assistive Technology Act maintain 508 compliance, this regulation’s guidelines offer a solid foundation for ensuring accessibility for all of the patrons that your library serves.
Below we’ll explore why 508 compliance is important and how your library can better serve all members of your community, no matter their abilities, by prioritizing online accessibility.
Online Accessibility Matters
Over half of the world’s population is now online, and 89% of Americans use the internet. You may not know these statistics by heart, but your library has likely seen an increase in the use of your digital collection over the last decade. While your online resources are an essential, valuable service that you offer to your community, they are especially valued by those who are not physically able to make it into your branch.
Just because online resources are available does not mean that they are accessible, though. Did you know that 10.4% of Americans have vision trouble? Or that 15.4% have hearing trouble? That’s a substantial percentage of the population that faces barriers to accessing your library’s resources and website. However, your library is in a position to help them overcome these barriers.
Increasing Accessibility With a Mobile App
Many libraries see mobile apps as a key way to serve this group, because many adults with disabilities already rely on apps to help them navigate an ableist world. In fact, 72% of adults with disabilities own a smartphone, and 70% use their smartphone to access mobile apps. From apps like Be My Eyes, which connects visually impaired travelers to a volunteer to guide them through unfamiliar surroundings, to WheelMate, which locates wheelchair-accessible toilets and parking spaces, the possibilities are limited only by the imaginations of app developers!
While your head is in the right place if you’re considering offering a mobile app to reach those in your community with disabilities, it’s not enough to offer just any mobile app. In fact, over the last few years, the DOJ has updated the ADA to ensure that mobile apps meet specific accessibility standards.
If you work with a third-party mobile app provider, be sure that they’re as committed to accessibility as you are. Here are a few key things to look for in an ADA-compliant mobile app:
- To make content readable for those with moderate vision impairment, your app should include a high-contrast feature that modifies branding colors for ease of viewing.
- For patrons who are color-blind, your app should include a color-deficiency feature that ensures all used colors are readable. For those with cognitive disabilities, be sure that your use of colors is not confusing. For instance, using green on your error messages or red on pop-up messages that are not about errors can make your messages hard to grasp.
- Since screen readers and adaptive technology help those who have visual disabilities interact with the online world, your app should support these tools.
- If your app features multimedia, closed-captioning and/or text-based transcripts are necessary so that those with hearing difficulties can interact with your content as well.
This list is just a start when it comes to reviewing a mobile app for ADA compliance. Give the apps you’re considering a thorough assessment with our Mobile App Scorecard, and you’ll be well on your way to helping community members with disabilities get the most value out of your library.
11% of Americans don’t use the internet. Who are they?
2017 US Census Bureau Disability Statistics Facts for Features
Digital in 2018: World’s Internet Users Pass the 4 Billion Mark
Disability and Functioning (Noninstitutionalized Adults Aged 18 and Over)
Smartphone Use and Activities by People with Disabilities: User Survey 2016