Digital Access: What is it and Why is it Important?

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Digital Access: What is it and Why is it Important?

Posted April 02, 2024


Posted April 02, 2024

Two platforms with a gap in the middle; one has the accessibility icon on it and the other has a laptop with an internet error message.
Two platforms with a gap in the middle; one has the accessibility icon on it and the other has a laptop with an internet error message.

Digital access refers to someone’s ability to access the internet. Learn more about what digital access encompasses and why it’s important.

Digital technology has advanced more quickly than any other innovation in the world’s history. In the last two decades, digital technology has reached more than half of the world’s population. Compared to other innovations, this is unprecedented. 

Now, digital technology and connectivity have taken over our daily lives. We rely on digital access for virtually everything — from connecting with others to accessing information. Yet, not everyone has access to the digital realm. For some, accessing digital resources is difficult if not impossible due to a persistent digital divide. 

Below, we’ll delve into the basics of digital access and its importance. We’ll also explore the various barriers that prevent individuals from accessing the web and what organizations can do to provide equal access for all. Finally, we’ll discuss one of the biggest challenges to digital access — accessibility — and how AudioEye can help.

What is Digital Access?

So what exactly do we mean when we say ‘digital access’? Put simply, we’re referring to someone’s ability to fully participate in a digital society. 

Digital access includes a few different dimensions, including:

  • Access to digital tools and technologies like computers or smartphones 
  • An individual’s digital literacy skills to navigate online spaces
  • Access to affordable and reliable internet connectivity (i.e. access to digital infrastructure like broadband, wi-fi, high-speed internet, etc.)

Another key part of digital access is digital inclusion. This refers to creating products, services, and designs that are accessible and usable by all users — especially those with disabilities. Inclusivity takes into account features such as assistive technology compatibility, readability, user interface, and more. We’ll discuss this in more detail in a bit.

Why is Digital Access Important?

Like we mentioned above, we rely on the internet for just about everything. Imagine what you would do if you didn’t have access to the internet. How would you get work done? Talk to friends or family? Schedule appointments? Scroll social media? Shop for goods? Learn? Pay bills? The answer’s pretty simple: You wouldn’t.

The internet is a way of life and everyone should have equitable access to it. Digital devices open up numerous possibilities and enable everyone to collaborate, communicate, learn, and access services.

Take education and socialization for example. The internet breaks down geographical barriers and provides people from remote or underserved areas access to educational resources or the chance to connect with people from outside their city — or even their country. This opens up a whole other world of knowledge and social interaction, allowing people to pursue their interests, grow their careers, and network despite their physical location.

Economically speaking, digital access plays a huge role in growth and innovation. It’s what allows businesses to reach global markets, tap into new customer bases, and operate more efficiently. On an individual level, the digital economy gives people more opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship — something that was unimaginable a few decades ago. 

Another example is healthcare. Digital access has changed the way we receive medical care. The internet enables people to access medical resources, connect with doctors, and search for health information. Additionally, telehealth enables people to schedule consultations with doctors, reducing the need for in-person visits (this was a huge lifesaver during the pandemic).

Ultimately, digital access is what keeps people informed, connected, and efficient. For those with limited or no internet access, it’s difficult if not impossible to connect with the world or participate in or contribute to the global economy.

Man standing next to car looking over a chasm at a hillside with a winding path that leads to stylized web browsers.

The Barriers to Digital Access

Despite the importance of digital access, barriers prevent individuals from fully participating in online spaces. These barriers make up what’s known as the digital divide — the gap between those who have access to information and communications technology (ICT) and those who don’t.

Those who live in rural areas are typically more likely to have limited access to the digital world than those who live in more populated areas. For example, internet penetration is 89% in Europe and over 80% in America compared to just 40% in Africa. 

Geographical barriers make up just a portion of the digital divide. Other factors include:

  • The access divide: This includes the socioeconomic differences among individuals and how they impact their ability to access — or afford — the internet. For example, those in rural areas or in underserved communities may not have the means to access the web. This divide also includes individuals with lower incomes and gender and race disparities.
  • The use divide: This refers to an individual’s skill set when using the web. For example, younger or more educated people tend to have more digital literacy than older or less educated people. 
  • The quality-of-use gap: Similar to the use divide, the quality-of-use gap refers to how someone uses the internet. For example, people with more digital literacy are more likely to get the information they need from the web than those with less digital knowledge.
  • The ability divide: The ability divide refers to how accessible the digital world is to individuals with disabilities. Challenges such as poor navigation, missing alt text or link descriptions, lack of compatibility with assistive technologies, and more hinder users with disabilities from using or even accessing parts of the internet.

3 Strategies for Enhancing Digital Access

Each of the connectivity gaps mentioned above prevents users from accessing information, making connections, completing tasks, and more. While many digital access improvements happen at a federal level, there are things organizations can do to improve digital access for all users:

1. Increase Accessibility

The disability community is one of the most underserved communities in equal digital access. According to the latest accessibility report from WebAIM, 56,791,260 distinct accessibility errors were detected — an average of 56.8 errors per page. Some errors can slow people down and cause frustration — others are more severe and stop users from completing tasks which may force them to go somewhere else. Regardless of the severity, these issues are preventing individuals with disabilities from accessing the web. 

Resolving accessibility errors removes these barriers, which yields benefits for both businesses and users. For example, research has shown that increasing accessibility improves SEO rankings, increases customer engagement and loyalty, boosts brand reputation, and expands customer reach. Users, on the other hand, enjoy a more accessible, inclusive online experience — something everyone has the right to.

2. Provide Digital Education

Despite the world becoming more digital, many people lack the skills needed to effectively use technology. In the U.S. alone, one-third of Americans lack basic digital skills needed to engage successfully in modern society. These numbers are even higher in rural countries like Africa where 90% of children leave school without learning any basic digital skills.

Organizations need to provide individuals with digital education. Training or upskilling on how to best use the internet and other modern technologies helps employees know how to get the most out of these critical tools. Additionally, this ensures individuals have the necessary digital skills to be successful in today’s world and in their current position.

3. Get Involved

The digital divide is unique to geographical areas and communities. For example, the U.S. is more likely to have a quality-of-use gap than an availability gap — Africa or other rural areas are more likely to experience this type of gap. Because of this, local governments and businesses will need to create affordable and appropriate solutions for their respective communities.

Organizations can get involved by partnering with local governments and policymakers, non-profits, or private businesses to offer education programs, raise funds, democratize technology, establish connectivity programs, and more. You may also want to consider getting involved with nonprofits or community centers who help make the internet more accessible. Companies like EveryoneOn, human-I-T, and Knowbility are all organizations committed to improving digital access and would be great places to start.

Create Solutions for Digital Equity

Digital innovation and internet use is only going to speed up. Bridging the digital divide ensures that everyone — regardless of their location, ability, or demographics — have access to the digital world. By understanding the importance of digital access, organizations can take proactive steps to increase connectivity and creating accessible, inclusive, and affordable digital environments.

A great place to start is by increasing digital accessibility. Ensuring individuals who have a disability can access and use your digital content helps increase digital access within your own community.

To test how accessible your current site is, there’s AudioEye. Our Automated Accessibility Platform scans your site for accessibility errors that hinder users with disabilities from using your site. AudioEye also provides automated and custom fixes, increasing the usability and performance of your digital content.

Ready to test your website for accessibility?

Scan your website now.

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