Business Case for Accessibility
February 18, 2021 - 10 minutes read
Incorporating accessibility principles into your business practices has numerous benefits for your overall brand. Not only will you expand your customer base by reaching more people, but you will also protect your company against the ever-increasing number of ADA lawsuits. And getting started takes less effort than you might think, and it will save you money.
The Benefits of Accessibility
The Web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more. It is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities. Access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).
The Web offers the possibility of unprecedented access to information and interaction for many people with disabilities. That is, the accessibility barriers to print, audio, and visual media can be much more easily overcome through web technologies.
To put it simply: Accessibility should be fundamental to any software project, not an additional add-on.
1. Expand Market Reach
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1 billion people worldwide have a disability. Of those affected, 235 million people report some form of blindness or visual impairment. Furthermore, about 200 million people have a cognitive disability and require content and applications adapted to their way of consuming content.
The WHO expects this number to double by 2050, and in the age of visual communications, this represents a huge untapped market.
Globally, not all people with disabilities represent a financially viable market. However, of those who do, the W3C estimates that the global disability market is nearly $7 trillion.
For software makers seeking to serve all customers, regardless of disability, this represents a huge, untapped market. However, companies should not rush to retrofit their “abled” products and services with accessibility features. Nor should they approach accessibility as a simple exercise in tagging for screen-readers that can be saved for post launch.
Implementing accessibility after the fact or flagging it post-launch activity leads to a compartmentalized approach to content presentation. Abled users get the “full” (default) experience, while disabled users get a “less than” subset of features. This is the very definition of “exclusive” design. Your good intentions to offer an experience to disabled users may end up alienating them by creating the impression that they are “less than.”
The best approach is to design and develop products and services that present an inclusive user experience that enables all users to interact with and consume the same content by whichever means they choose, and the “means” aren’t limited to assistive technologies.
2. Enhance your brand
Designing products and services that accommodate customers with permanent disabilities will demonstrate your company’s commitment to accessibility standards and save you from lawsuits. But designing a truly inclusive user experience instead of a solely “abled” one may elevate your brand with disability advocates and organizations and increase customer satisfaction with your abled customer base.
In her article “We’re Just Temporarily Abled Designing for the Future,” UX and content strategist Jennifer Aldrich says, “What if [the user] just fought with a family member or coworker? They are going to be smashing their mouse around on the desk trying to get through your product or site. What if they’ve been crying? Their vision is going to be impaired. What if they’ve been drinking? (I’m sure YOU have never shopped online while slightly intoxicated, but you know… OTHER people do it.) ;).”
Her point is that by expanding the definition of “disability,” we come to realize how important it is to make user experience and content design as inclusive as possible, by default. Plus, making your content accessible for all disabilities (permanent, temporary, situational) will lead to positive word-of-mouth that will enhance customer loyalty and brand awareness.
3. Drive Innovation
Another additional benefit from implementing accessibility as part of an inclusive design strategy is the opportunity for innovation that benefits all users. For example, closed-caption video arose solely as a fix for the hearing impaired, but many “abled” people in noisy (or super quiet) situations take advantage of closed captions. And many of the advances we see in AI, Sonification, Voice Recognition, Search Engine Optimization, and UX stem from accessibility initiatives.
Essential to driving innovation is to include people with disabilities in your design process.
Understanding their perspectives and challenges and designing for them will result in a more usable product for everyone.
4. Minimize Legal Risk
Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 181% increase in class action lawsuits filed for ADA violations. And it’s estimated by 2025, all G20 countries will establish enforceable legal standards for digital accessibility, which means lawsuits will continue to increase all over the world as countries write laws and companies scramble to achieve compliance.
This continuing proliferation of lawsuits, and their sometimes costly outcomes, may be due to the fact that neither the United States nor the European Union has codified into law accessibility standards for the commercial sector. However, certain laws/regulations from both the U.S. and the E.U. either directly or indirectly embrace the WCAG guidelines for digital accessibility.
Therefore, the best way to avoid litigation is to implement an inclusive design strategy that includes the WCAG guidelines for digital accessibility from the start.
Also, formulating a comprehensive strategy for the design and implementation of accessibility features up front (including an official accessibility statement) will help your case if someone should sue you. An accessibility plan and a statement demonstrate that you attempted, in good faith, to build an accessible product or service, and help mitigate damages to your brand and your wallet.
5. Save development cost and time
Addressing accessibility after the launch of your product or service will cost money, as your development team or vendor will need to rewrite their code to accommodate assistive technologies. If you’re under the gun to meet a mandated compliance deadline, the price will undoubtedly increase. And attempting to meet WCAG accessibility guidelines post launch may wreck your design system, the one the creative team spent months developing and approving.
The idea that incorporating accessibility into your development process wastes time and money simply isn’t true. For example, the best practices that your content, design and development teams follow for Search Engine Optimization overlap extensively with the WCAG guidelines.
The tactics employed to improve organic search results — highly structured markup, relevant content, alternative content for visual media, etc. — overlap with accessibility best practices. If your developers, content creators and visual designers are already implementing these tactics, a good portion of their work is done.
But much like search engines penalize websites for violating SEO best practices by giving them poor rankings, products and services that are not accessible will suffer a similar fate. Make sure you get your teams the training and tools they need to implement inclusive user experiences that are accessible to all.
How to get started with an accessibility program at your organization
You are unlikely to accidentally make your website or product accessible. You have to be deliberate about it, and make it part of your standard development process.
Usable.net, a consultancy focusing on accessibility, recommend these five steps in order to bring accessibility design and development practices into your company:
Make a plan
Create an internal, company-wide plan with clearly defined accessibility goals for your customer channels. Define the standards against which you’ll measure success. Include milestones for the design and implementation of accessibility features on your project timelines. Get everyone on board with the plan before embarking on the design process. Doing so will help team members recognize and perhaps mitigate the “abled bias” that causes many of us to overlook the need for accessibility.
Write and publish an accessibility statement
Set up an accessibility policy and statement, explaining why accessibility is so important to your operations. This should speak to team members, customers, the general public, and board members alike.
Talk to disabled people
Early on in the development process, whether through focus groups or interviews, it’s critical to talk to the people who will use your site or app. This includes people with disabilities. Understanding their perspectives and challenges and designing for them will result in a more usable product for everyone.
Also, hire people with disabilities in your organization. Their diverse needs and backgrounds will help build empathy in the organization and get direct access to the users who are the de-facto subject matter experts in assistive technology and how to best make use of it.
Train your teams and implement
Most likely, your development and design teams are utilizing templates and frameworks that offer some built-in accessibility features, such as ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) tags. But your design may still exclude a large part of your audience.
Subjective design decisions, such as small font sizes or dense blocks of content, may deter “abled” people from engaging with your product or service, because not all disabilities are permanent. For example, an “abled” customer who misplaced her glasses is as visually challenged as a legally blind person. Once designers and developers embrace the concept that accommodating disabilities benefits everyone, they will make better decisions and produce more inclusive products and services.
Test, fix, enhance
Once you’ve implemented your accessibility strategy across your channels, it’s critical to test it.
Testing your compliance with WCAG accessibility standards is simple, and in some cases, free. Online tools that scrape websites and analyze code and content will catch basic compliance violations (poor color contrast, small fonts, missing ARIA tags). But what about accessibility issues that automated tests can’t catch, such as language, comprehension or adverse visual effects that might trigger seizures?
To ensure your product or service is as inclusive as possible, incorporate people with disabilities into your user acceptance testing process. Engage with disabled users via focus groups and surveys. Ideally, these activities would occur pre-launch.
Post-launch, perform an accessibility audit utilizing a third-party firm that specializes in accessibility compliance. A once-a-year, professional audit will not only keep you up to date with advances in accessibility standards and compliance mandates, it will also help with lawsuits. Also, train in-house staff to perform basic, more periodic audits that catch common issues not covered by automated tools.
If the automated and hands-on testing identify compliance violations, work to fix the issues as soon as possible. If the violation could potentially result in a class-action lawsuit, be vocal about your intent to fix the situation, then do it right.
Following this plan will not only ensure that your finished project is compliant, but the plan will also hold team members accountable every step of the way. And remember to revisit your checklist as technologies evolve.