Taking On a Big Challenge for Data Visualization
The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
– Tim Berners-Lee -inventor of the World Wide Web
One of the most unique things about working at a data company that constantly challenges itself to find new ways to visualize public data is that we get a unique look into the scale of some of the issues facing our country.
For example, if you look at median household income from the past 30 years for any city in the United States, you will find a dramatically increasing wealth gap between wealthier and poorer communities. Below is an example in my own home of Kansas City, MO where little or no movement in income exists for some zip codes (the green line) while others project nearly 300% growth since 1990 (the yellow line). Sort of alarming, isn’t it?
However, sometimes we see a problem that we as a company can directly impact. Our recent obsession has been with helping solve the wide-scale problems of accessibility on the web. To give a sense of scale, nearly one in five Americans live with a disability, such as vision loss, hearing loss, or mobility impairments.
Below is a link to an interactive report exploring the number of residents in each state that have a disability. What we realized when we saw this was that tens of millions of Americans might be having difficulty accessing OUR content, our reports, and our dashboards. This was unacceptable.
See the population of people living with a disability in your state. Source: US Census 2013-2017 ACS.
Web Accessibility and the Law
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits state and local government (Title II) and commercial facilities (Title III) from discriminating on the basis of disability for all public services and programs, there are currently no clear guidelines from the United States Department of Justice regarding enforcement of or clear definition for website accessibility.
So even though the 1998 Section 508 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires all electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, the law is vague as to what that actually means.
Even more, in January 2018, an executive order withdrew those regulations resulting in all actions pertaining to regulatory standards being postponed indefinitely. With no direct ADA accessibility regulation, in 2018 over 10,000 ADA Title III Lawsuits were filed, and since the landmark Winn-Dixie case, courts are increasingly ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.
We believe in reach and responsibility for our customers’ shared data. ~20% of their intended audiences will have long term impairments and more may have short term impairments. Accessible to us means being Usable for Everyone.
— mySidewalk CTO Matt Barr
Our Opportunity To Make An Impact
With the federal government bowing out of accessibility oversight, we believe it is now our responsibility alongside our local partners to pick up the slack. We are happy to say the mySidewalk’s shared content is fully ADA compliant, meets WCAG Version 2.0 Level AA accessibility guidelines, and is built with consideration for physical and visual impairments.
Our shared reports and dashboards support keyboard-only navigation and switch access devices, color-blind-friendly color schemes and adaptable design for any screen resolution or page magnification setting, and alternate data tables and accessibility descriptions for complex visualizations. Learn more about how we have made our shared assets accessible.
More important to us than passing an accessibility test is living up to our company mission of empowering the city leaders and the public with the most complete, clear, and real-time understanding of their communities so they can improve and innovate together. “The public” in our mission includes everyone and does not exclude the members of the community living with impairments.
We believe that it is imperative to serve those community members with a usable experience. Our team is committed to continually improve this experience for people living with disabilities and make sure our customers can reach as many of the members of their community as possible.
"We believe in reach and responsibility for our customers' shared data. ~20% of their intended audiences will have long term impairments and more may have short term impairments. Accessible to us means being usable for everyone." - mySidewalk CTO Matt Barr
Want to learn more about how disabilities impact your community and their access to data?