After decades of advocating for the rights of individuals with disabilities, our efforts finally came to fruition with the signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The ADA ensured that millions of Americans across the country would be granted equal access and equal opportunities. Our sense of independence and equality felt fortified by the ADA.
Nearly thirty years later, however, our fight for equality continues.
Today, the digital world is replete with barriers to equal access for individuals with disabilities. Thousands of websites, pdfs and other forms of digital content are inaccessible to people with disabilities. This is an enormous challenge given that countless everyday tasks from banking to shopping to accessing government resources are increasingly shifting online. People using assistive technologies, such as screen readers, cannot access or fully enjoy digital content simply because many sites are not properly coded with accessibility in mind.
Web accessibility is an issue that impacts millions of individuals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 61 million Americans who live with some kind of disability. That’s 26 percent of the population and the number is projected to increase in the coming years. The National Eye Institute estimates that the number of people with visual impairment or blindness in the United States will double to more than 8 million by 2050.
As the number of people with disabilities rises and our day-to-day activities increasingly migrate from the physical world to the digital world, digital accessibility is crucial now more than ever for us to have equal access to resources and opportunities.
In the years leading up to the passage of the ADA, our community organized and advocated relentlessly for the rights of millions of disabled Americans. We were motivated by the principle of equality and the stark reality of discrimination that hindered our independence and our privacy. We needed ramps to enter buildings, braille to use ATMs, and sloped sidewalks to safely navigate our streets, among other critical upgrades. Today, the principle remains the same, but the world around us has changed.
More and more we rely on digital tools and platforms in our everyday lives. Digital accessibility is now the “ramps and rails” for barrier-free access to the digital world. Access to digital content means that more people with various disabilities can apply to jobs, find places to live and participate in the e-commerce economy like everyone else. All Americans deserve equal opportunities and without equal access to the internet, many of us will be left behind.
Together, the private and public sector can work to make this a reality. As a former elected representative, I know the power of legislation in granting rights to the American people. As a current board member of AudioEye, a company that solves web accessibility for businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies all over the world, I know the power of the market in getting this done. At AudioEye, we believe equal access is the right of every individual and the responsibility of every entity. The solutions exist to level the playing field. All that remains is the will to act.
We can all agree that the internet is here to stay and will continue to define the way we work, communicate, learn, travel, shop and everything in between. Now is the time to bridge the digital divide and make the internet a more accessible, usable and inclusive space.
Will you join the fight?
Tony Coelho is a former U.S. representative from California, the primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a member of the Board of Directors of AudioEye.
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