The Value of Accessible Technologies in Business
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, the Internet as we know it today did not exist as the ubiquitous infrastructure for information and commerce. Neither did the information technology-driven workplace. Today the internet and information technology plays a critical role in the daily personal, professional and business life of Americans. This also encompasses more and more the workplace and how business does business. Increasingly, many businesses under Title III of the (ADA) are using websites to provide public access to their goods, services, and activities. To support these activities the internal or employee facing operations of business are driven by information technology. An Access Ready Environments policy is intended to advance accessibility across the web and information technology.
Many websites and the information technology used in the offices of businesses render use by individuals with disabilities difficult or impossible due to barriers imposed by technology that does not allow for use in conjunction with the adaptive technology available to people with disabilities. Being unable to access websites and information technology puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s society, which is driven by a dynamic electronic service delivery model and workplace. The Access Ready Environment is one where website and information technology accessibility is designed from the outset and is not an afterthought as it is so often today. Businesses that embrace an Access Ready policy can accomplish this over a five-year budget cycle without realistic difficulty.
For many, it is now difficult to imagine a world without the unprecedented access to information that the web provides. Why would it be acceptable not to provide such access to people with disabilities? No other minority would stand for such limitations and society would not allow such a thing. It is a fact that the Internet is dramatically changing the way that businesses serve their customers. Businesses large and small are increasingly providing customers access to goods and services through their websites. By adopting an Access Ready Environments policy business can achieve and maintain accessibility on the web and through their information technology. Becoming accessible is only the beginning. Without policies in place to maintain it, the effort is wasted.
Electronic commerce, or “e-commerce,” often offers consumers a wider selection and lower prices than traditional, “brick-and-mortar “storefronts. For individuals with disabilities who experience barriers to their ability to travel, the Internet may be their only way to access certain goods and services. The availability of these services online not only makes life easier for customers but allows businesses to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. For Businesses to ignore people with disabilities as a market for goods and services is a tremendous mistake. This minority now represents twenty-five percent of the general population according to the Centers for Disease Control. The disability community represents three hundred billion dollars plus a year in disposable income. An Access Ready Environments policy moves businesses in the right direction.
People with disabilities represent a vast untapped talent pool ready to join the workforce. Accessible information technology opens up many employment opportunities. Given the rehabilitation funding provided by tax payers and the incentives in place for employing the disabled, it is ridiculous for business not to seek out qualified individuals with disabilities. What is needed is the adoption of an Access Ready policy that applies to information technology across the economy. The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from all aspects of American, civic, and economic life will be achieved in today’s technologically advanced society only if it is clear to businesses that their information technology systems must be accessible.