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Learn About Accessibility

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe the disability rights movement.
  • Define accessibility.
  • Explain digital accessibility and the benefits.
  • Recall examples of accessibility laws and guidelines.

Get to Know the Disability Rights Movement

Thank you for choosing to learn more about accessibility. Before we dive in to what accessibility is and how it relates to the digital environment, let’s discuss how we got to this point. Like other transformative civil rights movements, the global disability rights movement has a long history threaded with activism dating back to the 1800s. Many advocacy groups created for and by people with disabilities shaped the global conversation and are still actively fighting to advance and uphold the civil liberties of people with disabilities.

The disability rights movement in the United States, inspired by the civil rights movement, started in the 1960s and led to the first disability civil rights law, Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. In the following decades, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and Section 508 (information technology regulations) were all passed into law, acknowledging the importance of equal opportunity for people with disabilities.

The disability rights movement is making great strides to empower people with disabilities. Part of this movement is striving to establish that the access to information and the ability to contribute to the ever-evolving digital environment should be recognized as a basic human right, not a nice-to-have feature.


Note: This module uses the commonly adopted social model of disability and person-first language. In practice, always defer to the individual about their preferred terminology.

What Is Accessibility?

In a broad sense, accessibility allows people with a variety of capabilities to use products, services, and facilities independently. In practice, accessibility is about designing for users with disabilities. Why is this important? Globally, nearly 300 million people have some sort of visual impairment, and another nearly 500 million are deaf or hard of hearing. Millions more have physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities, not including additional limitations such as language barriers. 

Although this module primarily focuses on digital accessibility, let’s start with a broader discussion of the categories and conditions of disabilities, and how we can provide equal access to everyone with diverse capabilities. Nearly 1 in 5 potential end users has a disability. Disabilities are usually defined in five basic categories: vision, auditory process, physical ability, cognitive ability, and speech. Most of us have experienced some type of disability or similar medical problem in our lives, such as having a broken arm or being in a noisy or dimly lit room.

Understand Digital Accessibility

“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” —Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and Inventor of the World Wide Web 

The web removes communication and interaction barriers that people face in the physical environment. However, when websites, applications, and web tools are not designed with accessibility in mind, people with certain types of disabilities can be excluded from the web. Web accessibility means that people with diverse capabilities can perceive, operate, navigate, understand, and interact with the web, as well as design, develop, and contribute to the digital environment.

Digital accessibility benefits everyone. The universal design of assistive devices provides improved capabilities for many. For instance, we take for granted the improvements afforded by eyeglasses and assistive listening devices. There are many other technologies that help individuals access the web that we talk about later in this module. 

Who Benefits from Accessibility?

Accessibility is essential for people with certain types of disabilities and is useful for everyone. Ramps and curb cuts, for example, provide benefits to many, including individuals in wheelchairs, parents pushing strollers, and bicyclists. The typewriter and telephone were invented for people with disabilities, but soon found broader applications. Today, everyone can enjoy the benefits of adaptive environments when they use relay phone services, speech-to-text applications, or closed captioning. 

Because the web is such an integral part of our lives, it’s vital that it’s accessible and provides equal access and opportunity to people of diverse abilities. Beyond the fact that web accessibility can be required by law, providing accessible digital products provides tangible and intangible benefits.

Social Opportunity

Digital accessibility enables social opportunity. An organization with clear accessibility policies and practices is demonstrating its commitment to social responsibility. More than one billion people with disabilities worldwide are eager to engage with you as customers, clients, partners, employees, and equal participants in civic and social activities. When you design for accessibility, it often leads to improvements in brand image and company reputation, as well as increased sales, customer satisfaction and loyalty, and workforce diversity.

At Salesforce, equality is one of our core values. We want to ensure that everyone is part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including our customers and employees with disabilities. Internally, we have an employee resource group, Abilityforce, focused on disability inclusion, and we have a team in our User Experience organization dedicated to product accessibility. 

Commercial Opportunity

Prioritizing digital accessibility has additional business benefits. Designing for accessibility drives innovation because it requires approaching interactions from a contextual, human-centered perspective. Accessible design is inherently flexible, providing options and features that allow the user to engage with technology in various ways, across platforms and devices. Updating or redesigning technology to be accessible and follow other best practices reduces maintenance and service costs, and improves customer satisfaction. 

Learn About Personas and User Stories

As you learn about accessibility, it’s helpful to become familiar with the stories of people with diverse capabilities. As you create new apps, web pages, and other products with specific personas in mind, include personas that represent people who benefit from digital accessibility. People with disabilities are the largest minority, and it’s important to design and build products that are not excluding a segment of your user population. 

Accessibility: It’s the Law

It’s a civil—and legal—right for people with disabilities to have full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services of a place of public accommodation. There remains a legal question as to whether the law in question includes websites and mobile apps, as such things did not exist when the law was enacted some 30 years ago. Currently, some courts have concluded that if a company’s website or mobile app are inaccessible to people with disabilities, and this inaccessibility impedes access to the goods and services offered by the company at a physical place of public accommodation, then the company may be in violation of the law. However, neither the U.S. Congress nor the federal government have offered a firm opinion regarding the issue.

Salesforce is committed to improving accessibility to its on-demand enterprise applications. This includes integrating assistive technology, such as speech recognition software and screen readers. Our accessibility best practices are guided by industry standards (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [WCAG]), and we’re on a journey to ensure that our users can use our products without barriers. 

Of the many accessibility laws and guidelines in place worldwide, the following three have been particularly influential. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This civil rights law was passed by the United States Congress in 1990 and prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA applies to state and local government services, employers, and places of public accommodation. Furthermore, a number of courts have stated that the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps that affect a disabled person’s ability to access a company’s physical place of public accommodation.     

Section 508. Section 508 is a federal law that requires that federal agencies make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities, subject to certain exceptions. The law ( 29 U.S.C § 794 (d)) applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Agencies must give employees with disabilities and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0/2.1. WCAG is a set of guidelines, composed and reviewed by a global community of digital experts, that make digital content accessible for users with disabilities. The WCAG guidelines have four principles. 

  • Perceivable. Users must be able to perceive the information being presented. The information cannot be invisible to all of a user’s senses.
  • Operable. Users must be able to operate the interface. The interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform.
  • Understandable. Users must be able to understand the information and the operation of the user interface. The content or operation cannot be beyond the user’s understanding.
  • Robust. Users must be able to access the content using a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Other countries also abide by or have enacted into law derivatives of WCAG 2.0, and have adopted their own domestic digital accessibility legislation. For instance, in June 2019, the European Accessibility Act entered a 3-year period of adoption for all European Union countries. In 2000, Japan enacted into law the Basic Act on the Formation of an Advanced Information and Telecommunications Network Society, which is equivalent to WCAG 2.0. Brazil passed its Inclusion of People with Disabilities Act in 2015, which went fully into effect in 2018.

Let’s Summarize

Salesforce is committed to providing accessible products. In this unit, you learned about the history of the disability rights movement and how it continues to protect and empower people with disabilities. Disabilities come in a variety of categories and conditions, and getting to know people with diverse capabilities helps us understand their accessibility needs. Digital accessibility benefits everyone, regardless of capability, and there are laws and standards that ensure universal access to the web. In the next unit, you learn how you can be a champion of accessibility.


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