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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has only existed for the past 30 years – and it codified civil rights protections in communications, transportation, employment, and other areas of life for community members with disabilities. ADA regulations have been gradually updated over a short legal history, but many major gaps remain to achieve an accessible and equitable society. 

This is especially true in digital spaces where discriminatory practices continue to make internet access an ongoing problem, but government regulations and enforcement lag well behind technological advancement. Where traditional government processes, infrastructure development, and oversight may not move quickly enough to ensure digital inclusion in a rapidly evolving technological landscape, media publishers may be in a position to carve pathways forward on this timely civil and human rights issue.

Integrate accessibility practices into brand values and culture

The National Law Review reported that in the United States, “there is currently no law or regulations under the [ADA] directly addressing technical or legal standards for website accessibility.” Recourse for justice is often a lengthy, cumbersome, and outdated process for people with disabilities trying to gain access, but even new laws may fall short: “What we are looking at with the Online Accessibility Act [introduced in late 2020] is an antiquated application of the law against things that are moving far faster,” says Lawrence Shaw, CEO of a website compliance service and a pioneer of digital accessibility worldwide.

By the United Nations’ standards, however, internet inaccessibility is a violation of human rights – indicating that this issue deserves to be faced with urgency and gravity by both publishers and advertisers. A vision of accessibility must include more than eliminating suppressive political controls over online freedoms, but also the capacity for all community members to access web content without discrimination. 

One area in which disability advocates insist the Online Accessibility Act falls short is the removal of company incentives to eradicate digital discrimination on the basis of disability. Digital accessibility consultants and software producers, Level Access, argue, “The act removes that incentive for compliance and doesn’t replace it with anything that would meaningfully drive proactive conformance with the law (bigger fines, shorter administrative process, etc.). So, absent something that meaningfully incentivizes proactive compliance, we expect most organizations will adopt a reactive stance to implementation of the requirements.”

Compliance motivated solely by government enforcement – or by a reactive posture to inadequately updated human rights regulations – is not, however, the only choices media companies have. Publishers make decisions all the time about brand values and ways those values connect with their audiences, content selection, relationships with advertisers, and other dimensions of the business. 

On this issue too, why wait for government mandates that already lag behind industry evolution to drive digital access for readers? By integrating revolutionary accessibility practices into brand and company culture by choice, publishers posture themselves and those who advertise with them as leaders on this human rights issue…and potentially in new markets, as well. 

In the book publishing industry, companies have begun banding together to chart a way forward, and in 2019 international publishing giant Hachette Livre became the 100th company to join the Accessible Books Consortium “Charter for Accessible Publishing.” Hachette Livre CEO and Chairman, Arnaud Nourry, noted, “For the book industry, making books accessible to the widest readership, including readers who are blind, visually impaired, or print disabled, not only makes economic sense but is a moral imperative. If we, publishers, do not pioneer this duty on an industrial level, who will?” 

Media publishers find themselves facing parallel opportunities in their own rapidly changing industry, and having robust accessibility practices in their own company can prepare publishers to consult advertisers for more accessible ad content. This, in turn, can increase the trustworthiness of the publisher’s own brand as more community members find media organizations that holistically thought of them, designed for them, and consulted with them in mind – above and beyond inadequate legal requirements. 

InclusiveDocs, a digital publishing platform designed around accessibility needs, says ability inclusive brands will be prepared to reach new markets in quantity and quality: “…reach blind and visually impaired people who are frustrated and searching for publications they can purchase…25 million blind and visually impaired people in North America alone…2 million seniors in the US who are dealing with Age-related Macular Degeneration…15% of the population who suffer from dyslexia…Compete beyond price by creating a more sensory-rich user experience.”

By setting the tone and expectations for advertisers, publishers raise the bar on their own content and ad content readers experience in context with their brand’s digital experience. From consistently offering closed captioning, to selecting better color schemes and website configurations – much has been offered on how publishers and advertisers can integrate accessibility practices into their online experience and content. 

Center leaders with disabilities in company solutions

Unlike print media, digital media has only existed a short time in the industry’s history, and from machine learning to virtual reality, rapid technological advancements continue shifting the digital media market at a remarkable pace. Even if media companies choose to integrate accessibility expectations into every level of their business models, advertising relationships, and product execution, it will be impossible to anticipate each problem, need, or solution for creating digital accessibility.

However, that challenge doesn’t diminish the importance of this issue – or the reasons to take it seriously. Last year, Forbes reported that the population of people with disabilities is expected to double by 2050, and the United Nations has a goal for universal internet access by the same year. The U.N. also projects that two-thirds of the global population will be living in cities by 2050.

The sheer scale of that picture indicates not only an ethical imperative to ensure digital accessibility so entire communities are not ostracized from media markets and advertised content – but also a financial benefit to brands that elect to take this values-driven approach by following the lead of directly impacted people. 

Early last year, The Drum suggested that “digital accessibility might be 2020’s most important marketing trend….[and that] according to a 2019 study by Accenture, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and non-profit organization Disability: IN, companies with inclusive working environments for disabled employees had an average of 28% higher revenue, 30% greater profit margins, and twice the net income of similar companies between 2015 and 2018.”

It has been well documented that greater diversity in hiring contributes to the overall success of a company, and the same is true when ensuring diversity of ability in media organizations’ leadership roles. A company that has made deliberate culture and hiring choices around ability diversity will also be able to consult ad buyers from a more intelligent and authentic perspective that connects with the lived experiences of growing audience segments that are currently being ignored. 

A company that goes beyond mere inclusion or tokenization of people with disabilities – to actively following their lead on company-wide issues and cultivating a genuinely welcoming culture – will be positioned to anticipate the needs of communities as technology evolves, the quality of advertiser relationships, and social ethics in this industry.

Read more: “Disability and Leadership: Engendering Visibility, Acceptance, and Support”

Shared commitment to digital inclusion creates a stronger future for publishers and advertisers

One out of every five people on the planet experiences a disability, and that includes people in digital spaces. Digital media publishers are positioned to change the direction of digital access issues by concerning themselves with everything from the subscriber and social media experiences, to their leadership choices, to advertising content that can impact the credibility and impact of an accessible media brand. 

Across the board, digital inclusion is the way of the future and must be prioritized as an ethical and financial concern in the relationship between publishers and advertisers. It is the business of the future and a cornerstone of the community, not just a requirement to meet poorly crafted legal regulations. 

Samuel Scott writes for The Drum, “Digital inclusion is not a movement of businesses paying lip service to an altruistic goal to sell more stuff or being outright hypocritical towards a stated brand purpose. The idea truly helps both people and companies at the same time.” 

Publishers have the power to make forward-thinking, values-driven choices that better the credibility and financial efficacy of their own brands – and every advertising brand that associates with them and adheres to these standards. Media organizations committed to digital inclusion open access to untapped advertising and media market potential, unheard insightful leadership, and a new chapter for global human rights.


Lineup Systems is the world's leading provider of media sales technology, representing over 6,800 media brands globally, including Gannett/USA Today, New York Times and News Corp. Amplio is Lineup's multi- channel audience monetization solution that helps media companies realize their full reader revenue potential, using data-driven intelligence to engage, nurture and monetize readers with personalized offers that increase reader revenue and reduce churn. Adpoint is Lineup's end-to-end multi-channel media advertising sales solution that helps media companies streamline operations, make better use of data, increase efficiency and boost revenue.