Prioritizing digital accessibility in chronic condition management

Do Americans need digitally accessible healthcare?

Activists, policy-makers, architects, and others work hard to make our world more accessible to everyone who inhabits it. They create ramps leading up to a company’s front door, or crosswalk buttons that announce if it’s safe to cross the street. Even ATMs with icon instructions rather than written text make for a better, more accessible experience.

Accessibility in public physical spaces matter. But why don’t we make healthcare — easily as essential as these physical examples — accessible too?

We can’t make digital accessibility an afterthought when designing healthcare solutions for people who have already faced so many barriers trying to get traditional brick-and-mortar care. We need to proactively make virtual and web applications more accessible to all healthcare users.

What does accessibility look like in practice?

First, we should understand what accessibility means, because the word and the idea can be overwhelmingly all-encompassing. Accessibility includes reasonable accommodations, nondiscrimination, and eliminating stereotypes or assumptions about certain groups. It’s creating a universal design that works for everyone.

To be truly accessible, accommodations should naturally integrate into the average user experience. They can’t be considered luxuries or after thoughts. True accessibility includes practices and policies that are designed to remove physical, communication, programmatic, or other barriers of access in order to allow everyone in society full participation without additional effort.

As important as accessibility practices are for everyday life, they become life-saving necessities when it comes to healthcare. And a whole lot of Americans need better healthcare access. One in four American adults live with some type of disability. They face both visible and invisible challenges that require accommodation.

It’s unethical — and in many cases illegal — to add the burden of figuring out how to get care back onto them. Organizations and healthcare providers have to do their part to make sure those living with chronic conditions can get the care they need.

Creating accessibility in chronic care management

Digital accessibility isn’t just a suggestion, either. Federal law works to protect those with disabilities from discrimination.

Over 65 million Americans receive healthcare coverage through a Medicare option. Therefore, accessibility standards make it possible for people to get the care they need. That’s why any health plan with a government contract is required to follow Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which makes discrimination based on disability illegal.

As virtual care has become more popular, accessibility standards have expanded to make sure Americans living with disabilities don’t face discrimination in digital accessibility. Individuals who have experienced hearing loss, for example, need to receive remote care that isn’t dependent on verbal instructions from a provider. Instead, the telehealth provider would have to offer an interpreter or live closed captioning to be digitally accessible.

Not only is it illegal for virtual care solutions to be unaccessible, but there’s no excuse for it. There are a ton of resources available to help these platforms achieve digital accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) encompass the international, federal, and local laws and expectations. This exhaustive list of digital elements puts the burden of receiving care back onto organizations, because it’s their responsibility to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities.

Another resource, the Principles of Universal Design, is a CDC-promoted framework that considers design innovation, research, education and design assistance to improve products. Organizations that create with their people in mind can integrate disability and health inclusion strategies that guide an accessible environment.

Going above and beyond to provide digitally accessible care

For all the laws and official accessibility guidelines that exist, healthcare innovations should really lead the charge in meeting people where they are. For example, virtual care solutions can uniquely address transportation issues and proximity to quality care facilities. But without enough digital accessibility, those virtual care solutions may be no more helpful than traditional care solutions.

That’s why it’s critical for virtual care platforms to take a proactive approach to making their applications accessible to all.

That doesn’t mean trying to retroactively co-opt their programs to work for different levels of accessibility. They can’t try to make the square peg fit in the round hole. Instead, they need to think about making their applications accessible by prioritizing it in the very DNA of their design.

Vida Health’s dedication to accessibility

To further raise the stakes, those living with a disability are at greater risk for comorbidities. For example, people living with disabilities also need to be aware of their risk for diabetes. About 1 in 6 Americans with a disability have also been diagnosed with diabetes. In comparison, only 1 in 14 people without a disability have received the same diagnosis.

Vida Health is a virtual care platform with dedicated programs to cardiometabolic conditions, like diabetes. But since diabetes is never just diabetes, we treat body and mind together. Our programs specialize in mental and physical chronic conditions, because they rarely stand alone.

Our app provides access to quality care and for members to meet with their providers in a space designed to be accessible for everyone.

Why does an accessible app make such a difference? Vida’s leadership has focused on answering this exact question.

“​​Health is a human right,” explains Kelly Rawlings, Head of Program Design.

“Accessible design and services smooth the way for all people to fully experience Vida. Less cognitive load and sensory barriers — more immersion and participation.”

Digital accessibility is a process and a commitment

Digital accessibility doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a commitment that organizations have to mindfully pursue.

At Vida, we welcomed an independent review to understand any unnecessary complications in our app that would undermine an accessible experience. Functionalities like dark mode, text resizing, and heightened contrast all made for a more digitally accessible application. It’s important to remember it’s not just for people living with disabilities: accessibility functions improve the user experience for everyone.

Despite those successes, it’s not a one-and-done effort. Now, Vida partners with eSSENTIAL Accessibility, an organization that combines technology, processes, and people to make digital assets accessible for the long haul. This will continue to improve outcomes for our iOS and Android applications, as well as educate our leaders, engineers, and designers how to put accessibility at the forefront of our work.

Commitment to digital accessibility can’t be a reaction to scrutiny or backlash; it’s got to be driven by an organization that values accessibility at its core. Vida strives to be a leader in this space by holding ourselves accountable and being passionate about improving.

So what’s next? We’re focused on more accurate captioning, broadening accessibility features, and being open about our needs for improvement.

We know we’re not done yet, but we understand that the future for healthcare needs to accommodate all Americans to be successful. We’re excited to look towards a future where people are empowered to live their lives through better help.

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