Ryan Wieland

Ensuring an Inclusive Digital Footprint: The Importance of Digital Accessibility for DEI Initiatives

In today’s rapidly evolving and highly competitive business environment, organizations realize the power and critical importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. 

More companies than ever are making a solid effort to promote inclusion, which is also a critical stepping stone in driving access for people with disabilities. Disability does not see color, race, or gender – so in some ways, it is the cornerstone of diversity. 

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for brands to overlook disability, and specifically digital accessibility, in their DEI initiatives.

Just as DEI seeks to break down barriers and create a more equitable society, web accessibility illuminates the path toward a digital landscape that leaves no one behind. Inclusivity, both in the physical and virtual environments, is essential to fostering a sense of belonging and enabling individuals to participate fully in today’s interconnected and highly digital world.

This article will explore the increasing emphasis on DEI and its significance. Additionally, we will highlight the vital role of digital accessibility in a well-rounded DEI strategy.

What is DEI?

DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The underlying goal of DEI is to simply create a world where everyone feels valued, respected, and included.

Diversity starts with embracing and celebrating the unique qualities everyone brings to the world or work environment. This uniqueness can span from their background, race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, abilities, and more. 

It is important to not view uniqueness in a box, as it is wide-reaching, and that is at the heart of diversity. It recognizes that our differences make us stronger and contribute to a much more creative society.

Equity starts to pull on the strings of human rights – like disability access. It focuses on fairness and ensuring everyone has equal opportunities to succeed in society and the professional setting. This requires removing barriers and addressing the inequalities that have historically disadvantaged many groups.

Inclusion focuses on creating an environment where all individuals feel welcome to fully participate. This requires listening to diverse perspectives, fostering a sense of belonging, and respecting everyone. 

Inclusion also outlines that diversity alone is simply not enough, and we all must strive to create spaces where everyone feels valued and empowered to succeed.

3 ways you can ensure that accessibility remains a part of your DEI Initiatives

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for brands to overlook disability or accessibility in their DEI initiatives. While many companies try to promote diversity and inclusion, the specific needs and experiences of individuals with disabilities can sometimes be forgotten. 

This is, of course, in no way intentional by any organization. 

It can often be as simple as raising awareness and breaking long-standing stigmas around disability. 

Here are three simple ways your brand can ensure accessibility remains a focus within your broader DEI framework:

1. Promote awareness

  • Many brands or even DEI leaders do not deeply understand disability and its various aspects. This lack of awareness can lead to a limited appreciation of the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and the importance of their inclusion. At Allyant, we often promote Accessibility Awareness or Immersion Training in broader Digital Accessibility project plans with our clients. By creating an awareness and understanding of how people with disabilities navigate the complexities of the modern digital world and professional settings, many organizations can take simple steps to drive accessibility in all aspects of their work and customer environments.

2. Lead with accessibility

  • Where many organizations struggle with promoting and building around accessibility is by treating it as an add-on or an afterthought. Think of it like constructing a house. If you build the frame and outer walls without any exterior doors, it becomes clear that they need to be added later. Doing so after your house is built will require additional rebuilding to retrofit the doors into place – which is much more expensive than doing it in the first place. If your house was done and you didn’t need doors, you may not go through the additional time and cost of building entries to your home. On a far more critical and widespread scale, digital access and accessibility being worked into DEI initiatives are similar in nature. When accessibility is ignored and later treated as an add-on, it can be much tougher to build momentum and secure a budget, as it will likely cost more than leading with it built in from the start.

3. Broaden the Focus Beyond Visible Diversity

  • Brands often prioritize visible aspects of diversity, such as race or gender, which are more easily identifiable. Disability, an invisible or less visible diversity dimension in some cases, may not receive the same attention or consideration. However, as outlined above, disability does not see race, color, or gender – it can or could affect any individual at any moment in time, so, in many ways, it should lay the groundwork for broader DEI initiatives to build on.

Does DEI exist without Digital Accessibility?

For any brand committed to DEI, it’s essential to also prioritize digital accessibility. These efforts should not be seen as mutually exclusive.

Promoting DEI while having an inaccessible website or highlighting these initiatives in a corporate report via a PDF that is not accessible poses a contradiction and undermines the principles of inclusivity. 

An inaccessible website can prevent individuals with disabilities from applying for a job (at the core of DEI), engaging with the brand, or attempting to become a customer.

Any DEI initiatives are commendable and should be celebrated by your organization, so it is important not to hinder or undermine this hard work by ignoring accessibility compliance. 

An inaccessible website can send a message to a visitor with a disability that their needs and participation are not a priority, which contradicts other DEI goals and substantial progress, which is easily avoidable. 

To promote DEI, your organization should ensure that your digital presence, including websites and documents, is accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

This involves adhering to established accessibility standards, implementing inclusive design practices, and regularly evaluating and improving accessibility features.

DEI and Digital Accessibility – A Continuous Journey

DEI is not just a goal to achieve but a continuous journey of learning and growth. It requires us to challenge our biases, expand our understanding of different experiences, and take action to create positive change. By embracing DEI, we foster innovation, strengthen communities, and build a more equitable and inclusive world.

DEI and Digital Accessibility initiatives are not just intertwined around holistic inclusion. For any organization committed to both concepts, there are strong parallels in that they must be viewed as a continual journey over time. 

Merely conducting a one-time team training or hiring a single person to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) without consistently integrating it into your company’s culture will not effectively address the issue.

Likewise, having a web accessibility audit but not focusing on remediation or building ongoing accessibility practices will not magically provide equitable access to your digital properties.

A consistent and ever-improving process where your team constantly learns and makes these topics part of your standard methodology will lead to much more potent and sustainable long-term success.

If your team is interested in building digital and web accessibility into your DEI goals and initiatives, please reach out to us, and together, we would be happy to dive deeper into a roadmap to make this efficient and successful.