Editor’s note: Kaela Kovach-Galton, is Curriculum & Project Strategist for The Diversity Movement.

RALEIGH – The world wide web is aptly named. The world is indeed at our fingertips. Whether for business, learning, shopping, or entertainment, the internet is a necessary tool for our everyday lives. Full and easy access to digital media for all people means equity, but providing this access is complex. 

How do we expand digital access to ensure people with cognitive, visual, or hearing impairments, limitations, or disabilities have the same jobs, tools, and information? How do we reach people in pockets of our state where broadband isn’t readily available?

RIoT and The Diversity Movement are convening experts on these topics on Tuesday, February 23rd to discuss how to tackle these issues head on.

Think about the myriad ways technology and internet access enrich us and all the ways we rely on access in our daily lives:

  • Learning and studying
  • Scheduling a COVID vaccine
  • Reserving a library book
  • Staying in touch with friends and family
  • Paying bills
  • Searching and applying for a job
  • Applying for college admission and student loans
  • Streaming music and entertainment
  • Working from home
  • Ordering groceries
  • Sending gifts
  • Brushing up on new skills
  • Unleashing creativity 
  • And so much more…

Companies, brands, and service providers do not want to lose customers by not meeting their needs or delivering the appropriate services and accommodations, so how do we bridge this gap? Join The Diversity Movement and RIoT on February 23rd to explore actionable examples of what organizations can do to expand access to the digital world. There is an inextricable link between equity and accessibility, and there’s a solid business case for both.

Supporting People with Disabilities

Consider this, in the United States alone, discretionary spending by the 61 million adults who make up the disability community is nearly $500 billion annually (yes, billion with a B.) If a company’s website is not compliant with users’ physical or cognitive limitations, that translates to lost revenue, lost job candidates, lost audience, and lost impact. 

Ablr is a local company that helps organizations navigate this space by offering solutions to ensure no customer is left behind. Ablr’s co-founder and CEO, John Samuel, is joining RIoT and The Diversity Movement’s event along with other leaders and champions for access Tuesday, February 23rd, at 4:30PM ET.

Ablr’s mission is to “eliminate the barriers that have excluded people with disabilities from many aspects of life and promote inclusion for all people.” If we share its vision to enjoy a world in which everyone, regardless of ability, has equal access to digital information and a meaningful career, we are all lifted. 

Samuel sums it up, “As an entrepreneur with a disability, I see the gap that digital accessibility has created, and understand first hand what is possible once we close it. We are doing this by employing analysts who have disabilities to help businesses make their internal and external systems more accessible so that we can create more job opportunities for a group of people who are hungry to prove themselves!”

It is admittedly difficult to know and understand issues with accessibility if these are not lived experiences. Something as seemingly simple like paying a bill online can be a monumental chore to someone with a physical or cognitive disability when you consider that most platforms automatically time out and log out users before a task is completed. 

Not being able to use everyday services can become quite frustrating and limit social mobility in life. Other examples of this are taking an educational course, applying for a job, and locating private or social services online. Our local population’s social mobility will also be limited if a household does not have broadband access (internet), “says Noah Otto, Smart City Coordinator at City of Raleigh Municipal Government.

Expanding Reach

Studies have shown that 10% of Americans do not have access to the internet, including people in our local Triangle community and across the state. Jess George, Government & Community Affairs Manager at Google notes, “A staggering 467,967 students in North Carolina lack the internet or computer devices they need to access the education they deserve, and 9,818 teachers can’t teach because they lack internet access at home. This affects Black, Latinx, and Indigenous/Native American households at disproportionately higher rates, exacerbating long-standing inequities in education.” For example, Bertie County in eastern North Carolina and Graham in the west have only 36% broadband subscription

As you can imagine, broadband penetration is typically higher in urban versus rural parts of our state. Additionally, both sparsely populated pockets of the state and low income, high-density areas are experiencing slow economic growth and recovery, exacerbated by lack of access to broadband. Coupled with the issue of access are the factors of speed, bandwidth, and affordability. The Connecting North Carolina: State Broadband Plan has an ambitious goal “for every North Carolinian to have affordable access to broadband service—wireline or wireless—if they so choose, by June 2021.” 

Bandwidth, or how much data moves through a connection, is an important issue that affects efficiency for residents to access basic amenities and resources, something glaringly uncovered by the pandemic. Accessible, efficient, and affordable broadband means students can learn, employees can be productive, families can receive healthcare, people can maintain connections to others, governments can provide services, and companies can remain competitive. Access to affordable, reliable technology is critical to closing the wealth, education, and achievement gaps that exist in our local community, and nationwide.

What do accessibility and inclusion look like through a digital lens

Inclusion, in this sense, means full access to broadband and to web-based resources regardless of race, ability, income, or location. To get there, we need web accessibility features that enable people with disabilities, limitations, and impairments to easily use electronic devices and to access digital content. We need governments and organizations who come together to ensure that everyone has the tools they need to learn, thrive, and succeed.

Join RIoT and The Diversity Movement Tuesday, February 23rd, at 4:30PM ET to hear from leaders and champions for access and learn how you can help drive the tech industry forward. 

Speakers include:

Register for this joint State of Accessibility event between The Diversity Movement and RIoT here: RIoT 50 – Examining Accessibility Through Two Lenses.