Here’s What Language Service Providers Need to Know about Digital Accessibility

Translation and Digital Accessibility

Accessibility is usually associated with subtitling for the Deaf and hard of hearing or audio description for the blind. Although helping these audiences engage with content is a necessary first step, it only addresses the needs of a few specific categories of users. 

Moreover, although it has become more common practice to make video content accessible in recent years, accessibility for digital content has been struggling to catch-up.

In the digital space, accessibility is often referred to as “Inclusive Design.” This official US Government page defines the principle of Inclusive Design as “the belief and methodology of creating buildings, products, or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability, or other factors.”

The UK Government’s website also provides a list of examples of who the target user for Inclusive Design might be. It includes those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments, learning disabilities, deafness, and impaired hearing — a far broader list of users.

Digital content creators are thankfully now becoming more aware of these needs and are embedding Inclusive Design into their processes.

Inclusive Design Requirements for Localization 

As professionals and organizations that process content and generate language versions from a given source, translators and language service providers (LSPs) need to be mindful of accessibility factors, which are increasingly being integrated at the content creation stage.

Failure to do so could be overlooking legal requirements that your clients are bound by, potentially landing them in hot water. Alternatively, an LSP that builds up knowledge and expertise in accessibility could put itself in a strong position to advise and help its clients meet certain regulations.

For example, US and EU regulations mandate that all digital content must be accessible. In the EU, the European Accessibility Act states that by June 2025 “companies must ensure that the newly marketed products and services covered by the Act are accessible.” The Act came into force in 2019 but has allowed a generous six-year grace period. 

(By contrast, UK law requires all government and public service web and digital content to be accessible, although there is no requirement for private businesses to comply.) 

The list of products and services covered by the European Accessibility Act consists of a wide range of public and private sectors and is likely to include the majority of digital content that is localized — covering everything from banking and TV to online shops and more. This means that, as subject matter experts, LSPs need to be aware of accessibility requirements and inclusive design concepts to provide a suitable localized product to clients doing business in the EU.

Accessibility QA?

There are a number of ways that LSPs might check content for accessibility. Take the case of a user with a visual impairment — this user might well use a screen reader to help them read app content. LSPs could add a QA step for apps to check usability with a screen reader and help  identify potential issues. The language industry has become familiar with localization QA and functional QA, so why not incorporate accessibility QA?

Web pages can also be checked using the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE), which helps spot issues such as missing or long alternative text, missing labels, and issues with color contrast.

Making digital content accessible requires a high level of collaboration between clients (or content creators) and an LSP or localization professional. It can even significantly delay the delivery of the finished product. However, as well as the legal compliance aspect, having accessible content has the added benefit of reaching a wider audience and providing a better user experience for everyone.