While writing this post, we looked for a statistic that approximated the number of people who use assistive technologies, such as screen readers, to navigate and consume content on the web. Our thinking was that the number would surprise and immediately convince the audience of the importance of this topic. In our research, we were surprised to find that there isn’t a specific statistic for the global population of assistive technology users. However:

  • According to the World Bank, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability.
  • The World Health Organization reports the same number, noting: Today, only 1 in 10 people in need have access to assistive products.
  • Additionally: With an ageing global population and a rise in noncommunicable diseases, more than 2 billion people will need at least 1 assistive product by 2050.
So while most organizations, including Google, estimate 1 billion users, the number is likely higher and increasing.

It’s no wonder, then, that within the scholarly community, the accessibility of content has been a much-discussed topic recently, with a dedicated issue of Learned Publishing, discussion on accessibility at the W3C Publishing Summit, examination of the roadblocks to accessibility on the Scholarly Kitchen, and articles in publications like Research Information.

Design concepts for security and accessibility icons


Since there's a lot of available information on Web Accessibility, it's important to understand the terms, rules, and guides that fall under it.

  • 508 Compliance- Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act states that agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others. Government-funded information must follow this law and guidelines. There are some differences and similarities between 508 and WCAG, but WCAG 2.0 guidelines are a bit more detailed & higher-standard.
  • WCAG- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are standards set by W3C (World Wide Web Consortium, the organization that maintains The Internet) and are widely considered the gold standards in web accessibility. WCAG line-items come in 3 forms: A, AA, and AAA, with AAA being recommended and A being required.
  • Screen readers- Assistive technology that helps users who are vision-impaired navigate websites by programmatically synthesizing speech from web text (think Siri for your entire computer). Screen readers are usually built into operating systems and are available as purchasable apps (e.g. JAWS). Screen readers are one of many assistive technologies.
To assist users who may not have a screen reader, we have partnered with Silverchair Universe partner ReadSpeaker to make our blog content more accessible. The text-to-speech “listen” widget at the top of the page may be used to speech-enable content in over 50 languages.


Accessibility at Silverchair

Silverchair has prioritized accessibility internally for years, having designed, developed, and hosted federal government sites that require 508 Compliance, such as Patient Safety Network and National Guideline Clearinghouse. The latter was ranked 10th overall in a benchmarking study conducted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation of 297 of the most popular federal websites, ranking particularly highly for mobile friendliness and accessibility. As the study notes: “One of the most important ways that the U.S. government provides Americans access to government services and information is through more than 6,000 websites on more than 400 domains."

Beyond only our government clients, we actually aim for AA WCAG compliance in all of our online products. Our User Experience (UX) Designers work with clients from the beginning of projects and consult with them on AA-compliant color contrast, font-sizing, and terminology. They also consult with developers on interaction design patterns and the semantic sequence of content in the DOM or source code.

Front-end developers use the Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust (P.O.U.R.) best practices, are fluent in W3C’s ARIA tag guidelines, and use the Chrome WAVE extension for spot-checking.

Our Software Quality Assurance (SQA) team follows this up with SortSite testing reports to catch any flags that may have been missed. These reports become remediation stories in our Agile workflow, enabling us to continually refine and improve the Silverchair Platform’s compliance.

Some examples of accessibility features commonly employed in the Silverchair Platform include:

  • Providing text alternatives for non-text content
  • Providing all functionality of content operable through a keyboard, including a “Skip to main navigation” option
  • Careful consideration for readability as it applies to typography, color, and contrast
Achieving Web Accessibility relies on best practices as well as some additional work. If these accessibility processes are brought up from the start of product design and development, there are usually few obstacles. It can become significantly more difficult if attempted mid-build, or post-launch. Web Accessibility also relies on EVERYONE on a product team to be on board — from developers, to project managers, to designers, to the client. Our processes and roadmap are geared toward breaking down barriers to entry on all our products, propelling our clients’ content to greater reach and impact.




Further Reading


Brian McDonald, UX Manager  Brian McDonald, UX Manager

Zach Bruce, UX Designer  Zach Bruce, UX Designer

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