Did you know that 15% of the global population—that’s one billion people—has a disability affecting their user experience on the web?i This statistic is truly staggering, yet progress remains insufficient for the magnitude of people impacted. Unfortunately, the needs of people with disabilities, whether situational, temporary, or permanent, often aren’t considered during the initial build of design and website layout. Seeing this gap in disability inclusion firsthand fueled me to be an instrument of change.

No longer forgotten

The state of today’s world has created a greater dependency on the internet. We all live and work through our screens, so it’s more important than ever that everyone has easy access to digital offerings through their mobile and desktop devices. Even young school children are expected to be digitally ready. So how is it acceptable that people with unique abilities are not afforded the same experiences?

In May of 2020, we conducted an audit to ensure our global websites were accessible, leveraging Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards as a guidepost. To my dismay, Ciena’s website received an accessibility score of about 56%. This was unacceptable. I thought about how frustrated I become when I’m on a website or app that’s not user-friendly, so I could only begin to imagine how those with unique abilities feel when digital assets aren’t meeting their needs.

With accessibility and digital inclusion top of mind, I began considering ways to increase our websites’ functionality—regardless of whether an individual uses assistive technologies like screen readers, voice recognition software, or even switch technology (devices simplifying actions for those with movement-limiting disabilities). Coincidentally, many innovative technology features available today, such as autocompletion or even texting, were initially rolled out for people with disabilities before they became mainstream. And while many of us take these features for granted, these innovations are transformative for people with disabilities.

Setting new standards

To help bridge the divide, we implemented features that would help everyone traverse our web content without sacrificing their user experience. For example, keyboard accessibility is essential for users with motor disabilities that rely heavily on a keyboard when browsing the web. Keyboard accessibility was the catalyst for adding a tab navigation feature (ensuring content is logical and navigable using only a keyboard). Site consistency was a no-brainer and something that I think all users appreciate—along with the text equivalents for our multimedia assets (images, videos) in the form of alternative text, closed-captions, and transcripts for those with hearing impairments.

After implementing these features and addressing others detected by an automation tool, the Ciena website now holds a score of 99.3% for accessibility. This improvement was a collaborative effort between our web team and partners, particularly James H., a developer at one of our agency partners. James was “the brains” behind the coding necessary to make this shift a reality.

The accessibility journey

Although we’ve enriched our features and functionality, we aren’t finished. I’m continuously working through audits from specialists such as TransPerfect, who ensure compliance for meeting WCAG standards. Understanding new ways to make our digital offerings more accessible is what I’m passionate about—I hope to make users’ experiences on our websites more enjoyable and productive.

“I believe that accessibility is a core value, not a project, and it's now baked into the digital marketing team's DNA.” - Chinedu Mkpuluma

Because technology and user requirements continually evolve, accessibility will always be a journey rather than a destination. From a digital standpoint at Ciena, accessibility will remain a priority for design, not an afterthought. We are committed to driving inclusivity by implementing functionality to overcome all obstacles of accessibility for everyone who visits our global websites.

[i] Statistic is from Disability Inclusion, The World Bank