Internet Users With Disabilities is Dramatically Increasing
Web accessibility is becoming an extremely important topic in our digital-first world as the number of internet users with disabilities around the globe has increased exponentially in recent years.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities says that access to information and communications technologies, including the web, is defined as a basic human right.
“The social value of the Web is that it enables human communication, commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge,” says the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web. “When websites and web tools are properly designed and coded, people with disabilities can use them. However, currently many sites and tools are developed with accessibility barriers that make them difficult or impossible for some people to use.”
Rising Internet Usage and Users with Disabilities Globally
In the last 20 years the world has become a digital-first world across almost every corner of the globe with internet usage increasing 1,266 percent.
Becoming less a luxury and more a necessity, 4.98 billion people use the internet worldwide today, some 63.2 percent of the global population, according to broadbandsearch.net.
“The Web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more,” says the W3C. “It is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities.”
There are now over 1.3 billion people worldwide – about 15 percent of the world’s population – that experience some form of disability, according to The Internet Society Accessibility Special Interest Group.
While there would be more internet users with disabilities today on digital growth alone, the number is also increasing because there are more people on the planet with disabilities than ever before.
“The number of people with disabilities are dramatically increasing,” says the World Health Organization. “This is due to demographic trends and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes. Almost everyone is likely to experience some form of disability – temporary or permanent – at some point in life.”
CDC Says 1 in 4 US Adults Live With a Disability
The CDC says that one in four U.S. adults or 61 million Americans have a disability that impacts major life activities.
Using data from the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), this is the first CDC report of the percentage of adults across six disability types:
- Mobility (serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs)
- Cognition (serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions)
- Hearing (serious difficulty hearing)
- Vision (serious difficulty seeing)
- Independent Living (difficulty doing errands alone)
- Self-care (difficulty dressing or bathing)
With age, disability becomes more common, affecting about 2 in 5 adults aged 65 and older.
As the U.S. population continues to age with some 73 million Baby Boomers all reaching age 65 or older by the year 2030, there will be more Americans with disabilities.
Statista found that the percentage of U.S. population with internet access at home as of November 2019 by disability status:
- 59.6 percent with a disability
- 78.5 percent without a disability
Making the Internet Accessible for All
Of the 200 million+ active websites in the world today, it is impossible to say how many of them are not accessible to all users, but the United Nations estimates that 61 percent of government websites are not even accessible.
The W3C, which has developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) used around the world, says that “making the web accessible benefits individuals, businesses, and society.”
Mike Jones, a screen reader analyst, told Cable.co.UK that “despite accessibility technology “rocketing forward” in the last decade, society is still largely unaware of disabled people’s needs … As a blind user it is surprising how many of the mainstream websites are to some extent inaccessible, with many websites being extremely difficult to navigate.”
Ethical, Legal and Economic Reasons to Make Websites Accessible
In an increasingly digital world, websites need to address the needs of disabled internet users for ethical, legal, and economic reasons.
Apart from being “the right thing to do”, companies miss out on opportunities when they can not market their products or services effectively to 15 to 25 percent of the population.
There are also legal reasons to consider with a growing number of web accessibility lawsuits being filed in the United States.
While the total number of ADA Title III federal filings leveled off in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal website accessibility lawsuits increased, according to Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
“The numbers are in for total website accessibility lawsuit filings in federal courts in 2020, and to our surprise they show a significant increase from 2019. The total number of lawsuits filed in federal courts alleging that plaintiffs with a disability could not use websites because they were not coded to work with assistive technologies like screen readers, or otherwise accessible to them, in 2020 was 2,523–almost 300 more than in 2019,” wrote Kristina M. Launey and Minh N. Vu.
The 2020 web accessibility federal lawsuit increase came despite a lull in 2020 when the pandemic first set in.
“This is especially remarkable in light of the drop in filings in April 2020 to the lowest number we’ve seen in quite a while during the height of the pandemic shutdowns across the country, with courts closing, law firms moving to remote work, and lawyers with children adjusting to homeschooling and doing their day jobs,” wrote Launey and Vu. “We have not yet crunched the Q1 2021 numbers but anecdotally believe those high monthly filing numbers have continued into 2021.”
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