Digital accessibility: the languages industry’s contribution to leave no one behind

In this article, we analyze the role of language service providers in digital accessibility, the benefits and challenges of communicating in different languages, and why developing accessible content is also key to driving business success.

Language service providers play a vital role in digital accessibility, as their solutions break down linguistic barriers and ensure global inclusion regardless of the language. However, producing digitally accessible content also presents some challenges, such as the complexity of the workflow and the need to consider different requirements depending on the target audience. While deaf people may need subtitles or sign language interpretation, blind people will need audio descriptions for audiovisual content, and people with learning disabilities may benefit from a transcription using plain language. And these are just some examples.

Despite the apparent complexity of creating products accessible to all populations, organizations benefit significantly when they fully understand and satisfy their audiences’ diverse needs. By offering relevant and personalized content, acceptance among different audiences grows. This has a direct impact on mid and long-term value generation, as it strengthens customer loyalty and brand reputation. Let’s see how this happens. 

What is web accessibility, and why is it key for expanding the reach of digital content?

Web accessibility involves designing websites, applications, social networks, and other digital technologies to be used autonomously by all individuals, especially those with disabilities. In other words, all users should be able to  perceive, understand, navigate, and interact easily with the content.

Today, 1.3 billion people in the world live with some form of disability, which accounts for 15% of the world’s population. In the United States, for example, this group totals up to 61 million people (2021) and in the European Union, it reaches 87 million (2022). In both regions, it is estimated that 1 in every 4 adults live with some disability. This includes congenital disabilities and those acquired during someone’s lifetime, such as visual or hearing difficulties in the elderly or physical disabilities resulting from accidents, among others. 

We must also consider that the world population is progressively aging: 1 in every 6 people will be above 65 years old in 2050. Therefore, producing accessible content also takes into consideration this population, which may acquire age-related disabilities. 

Different audiences might require different support systems, depending on the type of disability they live with: auditory, visual, cognitive, physical, or others. Also, in an increasingly globalized and digitized environment, it is important to consider the limitations that arise when people cannot access information in their native language. All in all, developing accessible content in different languages might require video subtitling, audio description for dialogue-free videos, sign language interpretation (both in person or remotely for various languages), image description, plain language transcription, and other services.

Web accessibility can create new business opportunities

Deciding to invest in digital accessibility not only shows a commitment towards inclusion, but also has a tangible impact on business performance. Improving the experience of people with disabilities automatically expands the reach of any product or service to a significant potential market. The buying power of adults with disabilities reaches 490 billion dollars only in the United States. 

Moreover, accessibility solutions benefit both people with permanent and temporary disabilities, facilitating access to communication and information in different situations. For example, including subtitles in social media videos can help both people with hearing impairments and people without disabilities who are in places with background noise, where listening to audio can be challenging.

Improving these experiences, along with those of millions of other people worldwide, fosters innovation and strengthens the relationship between companies and their audiences, as people can interact more easily with technology. On top of that, promoting accessible content is good for SEO positioning because search engines aim at organizing the available information and making it universally accessible. 

Any improvements made to enhance the accessibility of digital content directly impacts search engines’ ability to index and display them to users. The more accessible a website is, the more organic traffic it will attract and the better its positioning will be.

The role of language service providers in digital inclusion 

What is language service providers’ role in the path towards digital accessibility and global inclusion? It is all about offering services that support the implementation of web content accessibility guidelines, a set of recommendations to make content more accessible for people with disabilities and the general population.

The language industry plays a key role in promoting digital accessibility by providing specialized solutions for diverse global audiences. In addition to ensuring that people have access to content in their native languages, language service providers also collaborate in adapting content into accessible formats, offering services such as subtitles, audio descriptions and images descriptions, among others.

Some of the main services that language service providers offer in terms of digital accessibility are:

Subtitling. Subtitles serve as an essential tool for deaf people or those with hearing impairments to access multimedia content. By enabling content comprehension without relying on sound, they allow people to enjoy movies, TV shows, educational videos, and social media content. Including subtitles in audiovisual content also helps overcome difficulties caused by the environment, as they allow the user to watch videos in noisy places or contexts that require silence.

Audio description. Audio description involves the inclusion of detailed verbal descriptions of the key visual elements that appear in videos, movies, TV shows, and other forms of multimedia content. By accurately describing scenes, actions, gestures, facial expressions, and other important visual elements, audio descriptions enable people with visual disabilities to fully understand and enjoy the content.

Transcription and translation into different languages. Audio transcription turns spoken speech into written text. It facilitates reading and understanding for people with hearing impairments, as well as those who prefer to consume content in written format rather than listening to it. This service, combined with translation into multiple languages, expands the reach and accessibility of multimedia content, and it allows a broader audience to enjoy it, regardless of their native language or their hearing ability.

Translations using plain language. Plain language aims to convey information in a simpler manner by adapting vocabulary, sentence structure, and phrase length to make it understandable to a wide range of readers. When applied to text translation, it enhances accessibility for individuals reading in a second language and those with cognitive disabilities.

Inclusion of sign language interpretation in multimedia content. This type of interpretation is considered a specific form of localization for the deaf population, involving the inclusion of sign language interpreters in videos, movies, or other multimedia content. It helps people with hearing impairments fully enjoy the content without facing communication barriers.

Image description in websites and social media. Including alternative text in images (also known as alt-text) makes them accessible to people with visual disabilities who browse the web with the aid of screen readers. This practice consists of providing a detailed written description of images, which can also be translated to multiple languages.

Final thoughts

Digital accessibility is not just about eliminating barriers for people with disabilities, but it is also key to strengthening the relationship between organizations and broader, more diverse audiences. When the needs of people with visual, auditory, cognitive, and other disabilities are considered as well as those of people who face linguistic limitations, organizations generate an inclusive environment in which everyone can interact and access information autonomously.

Language service providers play a key role as strategic partners in digital inclusion, as they offer a wide range of services aimed at adapting content to the specific needs of different audiences. From translation and localization of content for companies wishing to globalize their services, to subtitling, audio description, and transcription of multimedia content, there is still much more to be done and many opportunities to be explored to leave no one behind.

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