NEW YORK—Creating accessible spaces and promoting inclusion was one of the main themes at the VM Summit this year. Jennifer Sagalyn, director of strategic partners at Perkins Access, the accessibility consulting division of Perkins School for the Blind, has been helping organizations achieve this her whole career.

“The first step to becoming an accessibility champion is to understand the barriers,” Jennifer Sagalyn said, adding that a digital world is elevating the barriers for students as tactile experiences disappear.

Over the years, she has witnessed the challenges people with low vision face every day as they try to navigate a world that was not designed with vision loss in mind. She said the changes businesses can make to improve access for someone with low vision are not great, but the impact they have can be life changing for others.

“The first step to becoming an accessibility champion is to understand the barriers,” she said, adding that a digital world is elevating the barriers for students as tactile experiences disappear. She said that businesses need to focus on creating digital products that offer accessibility now that there is greater access to tools and resources.

Through her experience at Perkins, Sagalyn has seen how businesses are not always in tune with the barriers to information that exist for customers, patients and employees with disabilities. She said Perkins Access evaluates digital accessibility for their clients using both internal and external digital information.

“We help them address unseen barriers not only for people with visual impairment, but for everyone who relies on a digital accessibility solution,” she said, highlighting that everyday platforms like YouTube do not always achieve accessibility despite having services such as closed captioning.

She said the accuracy of captions is only 60 percent to 70 percent, making it insufficient for communicating critical and important information to viewers. She said this applies to websites, mobile apps and software, which are often not adequate for people with low vision.

“Most people think digital accessibility is only about websites, videos and software. But more and more physical locations have digital touchpoints for customers, patients and employees,” she said, noting that more businesses are recognizing the importance of removing barriers.

Sagalyn said the recent CES event in Las Vegas saw an increase in interest in both businesses and participants in accessibility technology.

“Accessibility was the topic on so many different stages. These companies have a very common theme. They know that their customers are aging and have different needs than they did 10 or 20 years ago, and they’re solving for those differences,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 40 percent of adults over 65 have some form of disability. Sagalyn reminded Summit attendees that the risk of being sued is high if companies fail to meet the standards outlined in legislation such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and the Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

Furthermore, businesses are losing out on money-making opportunities by failing to provide accessible digital platforms. According to the US Department of Commerce, accessible sites are losing $6.9 billion a year to competitors whose sites are accessible.

“Digital accessibility has come a long way, and attitudes about digital accessibility have changed too. For years, organizations in the accessibility space, including Perkins, have shared a similar argument for accessibility,” Sagalyn said.

She believes that businesses who fail to take this important step are missing out on an opportunity to improve accessibility and increase revenue.

“In the United States, working age people with disabilities control disposable income of nearly $500 billion. You are at risk of excluding 61 million potential customers and employees with disabilities, including 4.9 percent that have a visual disability,” she said. “So much progress has been made to improve accessibility for people with visual impairments and for everyone who benefits from digital inclusion.”