Last updated: June 17, 2019

What is Digital Accessibility?

What you may not have known about the types of disabilities, and tips for improving your organization's website accessibility.
Posted by Karl Pawlewicz

Digital accessibility is the practice of ensuring that websites, web applications, and digital content can be used by a community with a diverse range of abilities. This includes individuals who struggle with:Hearing

  • Movement
  • Sight
  • Cognitive functions

[Read More: This is another in our series of articles on digital accessibility for government agencies.]

While certain individuals require special accommodations in order to access resources, accessibility benefits more than just people with disabilities. Think about the advent of the elevator: this technology allowed individuals with mobility impairments to access buildings, but it also enhanced the experience of accessing buildings for all individuals. People – regardless of their ability – can benefit from accessibility-driven innovations.

In the digital world, accessibility similarly enhances the all-around user experience. For example, text-to-speech functionality is a requisite for individuals with vision impairments; however, artificial intelligence has also enhanced the experience of individuals without disabilities. The popularity of virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri illustrates the profound impact of text-to-speech technologies across all populations.

In other words, digital accessibility is essential for some, but useful for all.

What you may not have known about the types of disabilities.

While disabilities include mobility, visual, hearing, and cognitive impairments, people don’t realize the extent of these categories. See below for some examples of what you may not have known about the types of disabilities:


Mobility impairment is the most common disability in the United States, with 13% of adults experiencing serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs. But the implications of mobility impairments extend beyond ramps and physical barriers, with profound impact for the digital world.

SUGGESTION: Does your government require that documents or forms be brought into City Hall? Consider automating these processes, so that individuals with a movement disability can interact with government services from the comfort of their own homes.


While most associate sight impairments with blindness and low vision, impairments also include color blindness, defined as difficulty distinguishing between colors, and sometimes the inability to perceive any color. As a result, online content that is only identifiable by its color is considered inaccessible, due to the lack of alternative options.

SUGGESTION: Dyscalculia is a math learning disability in which someone struggles to understand numbers and perform calculations. Does your agency have applications that require calculations and payments? Think about automating calculations through digital forms.


The Cognitive category of disabilities encompasses how people process and comprehend information. Cognitive disabilities include ADHD, mental health conditions, learning disabilities, and seizures. From a digital accessibility perspective, this means that online content should be simple with straightforward language, so that all people can understand with minimal effort.

SUGGESTION: Non-English speakers benefit from simple language, but take it a step further: Embed a Translator into your website and online forms so that non-English speakers can better understand your content with the click of a button.

A team of web developers work on a digital accessibility project.

Accessibility beyond the realm of disability

Accessibility is a mindset that promotes equal opportunity and access for all. People with disabilities are a key consideration when developing accessible services, but accessibility should also account for temporary and situational factors that may impede an individual’s access.

EXAMPLE: A single mother working full-time to provide for her children cannot afford to take time off from work to submit a government application to City Hall during business hours.

  • Solution: Provide an electronic version of the application so that the single mother can submit it at any time, from anywhere.

EXAMPLE: A person with a heavy accent might not be understood when trying to communicate with a government representative.

  • Solution: Provide an alternative method of communication, such as email or chat.

EXAMPLE: An individual with a broken arm might have trouble using his keyboard to live chat with a government official.

  • Solution: Provide a text-to-speech alternative so that the individual can dictate her message and the government official can respond accordingly.

Accounting for permanent, temporary, and situational factors is crucial for building a culture of accessibility in government.

Education & Inspiration

Resources for Local Government Officials