The power of the Web is in its universality. Accessed by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect
– Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web
Most companies are focused on developing out-of-the-box products - something that gives them an edge and distinguishes them from their competitors. While they do keep the target audience in mind, sometimes the factor of accessibility still skips their consideration.
Now, what good is any product or service if it isn’t easily accessible by the people it is intended for? This audience can include both people with disabilities or neurodivergent individuals, people with a lack of technical understanding where they require additional assistance.
Keeping this in mind every business must ensure that their websites, products, tools, and technologies are equally accessible to everyone. The ease to access, navigate, perceive, and contribute to the Internet represents web accessibility.
In today’s world, providing equal access and opportunity to every disadvantaged person to put them on par with others is the need of the hour. Especially so when one billion people worldwide suffer from some form of disability! From a business point of view, ignoring this market segment would only bear losses and hamper the growth of your company.
Consider the BBC website, one of the first websites to explore and invest in responsive website design. Their digital team is committed to offering people ‘Accessibility Help’ right when you land on their page. From hidden texts that offer extra information to screen reader options further ensuring the site is easy to navigate with a keyboard, the website is loaded with several accessibility enhancements.
Hilton Columbus at Easton is another great example of an accessible website. It's designed keeping in mind people suffering from seizures and epilepsy. Its website allows its users to choose the best accessibility profile that suits their preferences. There are no flashes, no blinking animation, and no loud color combinations, making it a seizure-friendly website!
4 ways to achieve web accessibility
For several years, businesses treated the concept of diversity and inclusion as an additional chore. Yet today, it has become an integral part of most organizations. Similarly, companies are now waking up to the idea of web accessibility having a very real impact on their business.
With accessibility in tow, you allow your business to open up to an entire community of disabled people, thereby growing your potential market base. Moreover, without accessibility, your business risks getting entangled in a web of whacking lawsuits and negative public exposure.
So, choosing web accessibility is an irrefutable win for your business and a step forward in creating an inclusive virtual world. But, how to achieve this state of complete accessibility? How can you transform your business to ensure better inclusivity and a good experience for disadvantaged people?
By training your team
To achieve web accessibility, the first step is to educate your workforce about it. Set a training strategy in place, and enlighten them about how accessibility simply means creating smarter designs for the audience.
This will help you drive up the profits of your business by about 50%. Additionally, it would also allow your workforce to build a new skill set, thereby boosting their productivity and enhancing the workflow in the longer run.
Once your team understands the significance of accessibility, they are more likely to think from the perspective of a user with special needs that they earlier ignored. This would help create accessible websites that comply with the needs of the targeted end consumers.
Offering conscious accessibility training would also that you are open to improving the work culture and creating a more diverse and inclusive workspace. Remember, a happier and satisfied team is likely to be more resilient and stick by you, reducing the chances of employee turnover.
By testing and re-testing
As with any product or service, the more it grows, the harder it becomes to fix its oddities. So, when you aim to design an accessible website, it's essential to continuously test it out. It would allow you to better understand the feasibility and usability of accessible features while still having the room to make adequate changes.
However, most companies fail to take the target market into account when testing, and re-testing. So, do not treat the data about the disabled community as an anomaly, instead, make them an inherent part of your personality profiles.
Remember, they are the people you are designing for; not a bycatch who wouldn't interact with your website. Make sure you invite them to your office and ask for their honest reviews. Ask questions like 'did a certain feature work, or did it create an additional hurdle?'
This is important because understanding how they interact with the software will help you carry out more accurate testing accordingly. You can fast-track the process, straighten out the kinks, and mitigate the number of re-checks eventually.
In the end, your website will reach its targeted audience faster!
By building an in-house accessibility team
The concept of accessibility is still relatively new. It's not practical to expect all your employees to understand the concept intricately. That said, it’s essential to constitute an internal accessibility team.
This team should ensure that the web design coincides with the accessibility objectives. Additionally, the team will become a go-to for everything that concerns accessibility and inclusivity, and will be responsible for training the rest of the members.
Moreover, an internal team will already be aware of the developments and act accordingly, ensuring that every aspect and concern is aptly addressed. This will save time and ensure that accessibility becomes a core part of the everyday work process.
By allocating the budget smartly
When allocating budgets, you cannot simply limit your vision to short-term goals and immediate returns. While accessibility is a money-maker, its results will not be instantaneous. Yet, once the untapped market opens up, you will avoid great legal setbacks that would have come without accessibility. This is when you'll see the true returns.
Inclusivity reflects thoughtfulness, and that is something your consumers will fall in love with, in due time. So, it's crucial to fix an accessibility budget after considering the purchase of specialized tools, the cost of educating your team, and the time spent in formulating testing strategies.
Do not become part of the herd that skips over accessibility conversations, ignores an action plan, and keeps aside no budget for crafting an accessible website experience. Otherwise, you would be left scampering, trying to fix the issues later at greater costs and in little time.
ROI of Web Accessibility
"Outer beauty turns the head, but inner beauty turns the heart."
This phrase is relevant to both our physical and virtual lives. It's not enough to simply be beautiful and eye-catchy; the inner beauty in website designs counts just as much.
This brings us to one of the indisputable core considerations when designing a website: accessibility. Ensuring that those with special needs do not have a negative experience when consuming web content is a pressing priority!
But, what’s in it for you? Implementing web accessibility brings about several benefits that you cannot refute. Let’s take a look!
Prevents discrimination lawsuits
The Internet is a significant part of every person’s life. There is hardly anyone who might be bereft of the magic of Google. No wonder web accessibility is now a civil right for disabled people. They have the same right to enjoy, explore and make the best use of digital technologies as any other.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures equal access and enjoyment of public places for people with disabilities. While ADA does not explicitly include web accessibility, the legislation encompasses digital spheres.
Additionally, if you look at the numbers, you will see that web accessibility lawsuits are growing every year. In 2021, there were 2,352 lawsuits against U.S. businesses, which is 14.3% more than in 2020!
So, if you do not want a discrimination lawsuit in your hands, then working towards web accessibility is a need, not a choice.
Reach a wider range of audience
A billion people live their lives with disability of some form. Ignoring this potential market segment will simply cause negative repercussions and losses. So, while it's impossible to create an accessible website that meets the requirements of every single person, a couple of modifications can surely go a long way.
Features like closed captions, transcripts, clear and simple design, and easy mobile accessibility would be useful for everyone, not just disabled people! Hence, you must tap the unexplored potential market and allow your business to flourish!
Creates better public image
This is the era of digital activism. People are growing more conscious of the businesses that they choose to support. They are sticking to their ideals, beliefs, and values, and any business that does not meet the same standards is out of the race in no time. Corporate social responsibility is not an afterthought anymore.
70% of American consumers are inclined to positively interact and purchase from a business that’s making a genuine effort to make the world a better place. Another 55% of American consumers believe that companies must take a vital stand on social, political, and environmental issues.
Today, web accessibility has become an important cause for not only the disabled community but also people who have disabled loved ones in their lives. So, taking a righteous stand on the web accessibility cause and working for it will allow you to build an excellent brand image for your business.
People with disabilities, and their friends and family, are more likely to recommend your business if you create positive interactions. So, create an accessibility statement for your business. State your commitment to creating an accessible website and mention the steps you undertook to accommodate disabled people.
Enhances search engine optimization
Improving the usability of your website is one aspect of web accessibility. But there's something more that it does – it improves search engine optimization (SEO), thus making your site easier to find. With better SEO, your content will witness higher traffic, and your website rank will increase.
The clean interface of the website and its easy navigation by disabled people will improve the bounce rate as well. Keep in mind that search engines are mostly text-based. They cannot search through your videos and audio content unless there are transcripts and closed captions.
It helps Google to easily discover texts which are then indexed appropriately. Hence, it inadvertently helps redirect more users to your website and ultimately not only helps people with disabilities but everyone else, too.
The concept of web accessibility and usability overlap each other. The goal is to create websites, services, and products usable by every person, especially disabled people. You need to ensure that your website is entirely navigable through the keyboard, making it easier for people unable to use a computer mouse.
Keyboard accessibility ensures that all the elements of a website are organized in a proper hierarchy to help locate the content effortlessly. Using alternative texts for objects and images allows people with visual impairment to understand the visual content better. It also helps those struggling with slow internet since they can see the written content before the visuals pop up.
Last but not the least, creating a glossary of rare words, acronyms, jargon, etc., also makes your website accessible to people with cognitive disabilities. Not to forget, it serves as an aid to people who may not understand English very well or have linguistic barriers.
The cost of web accessibility
Before you can understand the cost of web accessibility, it’s essential to understand what ROI means. In mathematical terms, ROI = (Net Profit/Cost of Investment) x 100.
In simple terms, good ROI increases revenue and improves the net profit. But the ROI on web accessibility is not limited to just good revenue. This investment also helps you steer clear of possible future expenses.
Now, to gain positive ROI from web accessibility, there are two ways: Firstly, you can upgrade the customer's lifetime value and ensure your business's customer retention rate is top-notch or secondly, you can infer the total sum of money you spend on acquiring new customers and invest accordingly.
So, gain an ROI from web accessibility by ensuring that your net profit is more than the amount you spend on it. You could either do so by acquiring new business or ensuring that you create a base of loyal customers. As a simple rule of thumb, strive to maximize the ratio of loyal customers to the action of acquiring new customers.
Ideally, this ratio should be 3:1 (retaining loyal customers: acquiring new customers) for your ROI to be dubbed a success. In terms of accessibility, your goal must be to attain 300% from web accessibility instead of the cost you spend in making your systems accessible.
Remember there is a risk of enduring losses if you do not strive to achieve accessibility. You can calculate this possibility of loss as well – (Probability of negative event to occur/total number of businesses in your industry who dealt with a loss) x 100
While it's hard to gauge the probability of an event that may or may not happen, it will allow you to gain some insights. Lastly, calculate the amount you spend on accessibility. It includes the money spent for consultations, audits, tools, and training.
It also includes the time spent, materials utilized, and the number of employees involved. If your investment cost is lesser than your ROI, i.e., increment of customer base and retention of loyal consumers, then you are golden!
Consequences of inaccessible websites
Want to know something intriguing?
In 2020, a WebAIM study found that not even 2% of top websites offer web accessibility. Another Forbes article stated that 71% of people with disabilities bounce off a website due to inaccessibility. What's even more baffling is that the global population of disabled people holds the spending power of over $1.2 trillion!
Yet, little to no companies are catering to their needs, leaving this market unexplored. Ultimately, it's a huge monetary and goodwill loss for businesses not capitalizing on this under-the-radar section of the market. In today's day and age, you cannot disregard the consequences of an inaccessible website.
Otherwise, your business runs the risk of:
With more stringent rules in place, websites that do not follow the WCAG accessibility guidelines are sued. Any lawsuit about web accessibility will have you spending big bucks on an attorney or outside counsel, fees on filing, and discovery costs.
Moreover, if you do not find a permanent solution, it would result in a never-ending tailspin. More lawsuits will continue coming in, and it will drain both your money and time, and weaken your organization completely.
Destruction of brand image
The demographic of disabled people is on a continuous rise. If you do not listen to their voice, needs, and demands, you risk gaining a bad reputation. Given that the general customer base is getting more inclined towards being ethical and morally correct, your corporate identity is likely to suffer.
Lack of competitive edge
Web accessibility can serve as a market differentiator between you and your competitors. If you don’t create a barrier-free, easily accessible website and environment, and your competitor does, then you will lose a significant market segment to them. Ultimately, this would result in a grave loss for your business revenue.
All about laws related to web accessibility
The U.S. has certain web accessibility laws set in place. Its violation could reflect adversely on your business. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the primary law that exists in this regard.
Title III of the ADA states that any discrimination “based on disability in the activities of public accommodations” is prohibited.
Sure, this law was instituted keeping the hurdles present at physical locations in mind, but it is now also applicable to the virtual world. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at some prominent web accessibility laws:
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG)
WCAG is a globally recognized standard of accessibility formulated by the World Wide Web Consortium. Its sole aim was to construct the Web, which is more accessible for disabled people.
Although WCGA talks about a comprehensive range of issues, it cannot address the specific needs of every disabled person. But it aims to make the Web usable by all, including older individuals who struggle with aging and physical limitations.
Thus, with its goals clearly outlined, the first WCAG came out in 1999 and the 2.0 version was published in 2008, which has become the definitive standard across the world.
These guidelines provide 4 overarching design principles to develop accessible websites. It also offers guidance to developers and designers to help make accessible designs. Lastly, it stipulates a certain standard of technical requirements that every website must meet.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
This law was enacted in 1990 to ensure there was no discrimination against people with disabilities. The Act does not talk of web accessibility explicitly. Yet, it ensures that if businesses offer services and products on their websites, they must be easily and equally accessible even to disabled people.
The Rehabilitation Act
The Rehabilitation Act 1973 was the first U.S. law that prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities. Section 508 of this Act dictates that Federal agencies must ensure that their information and electronic technology are easily accessible by disabled people.
In 2018, this section was updated to include WCAG, thus harmonizing the accessibility requirements as per universal laws. Do note that this section does not apply to private organizations unless they receive federal funds or are employed by a federal agency.
Twenty-first Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act
This Act updated the accessibility laws that ran through the 80s and 90s to bring it up to speed with 21st-century technologies. So, it allows for increased access for people with disabilities to utilize modern communications like mobile, broadband, and digital innovations like any other person.
These web accessibility laws are crafted for people who suffer from any kind of disabilities – mobility, hearing, vision, speech, independent living, cognitive, self-care, neurological, language, and learning incapacity.
Additionally, ADA, the primary law regulation in regards to web accessibility, applies to the following business categories:
- Exercise or recreation
- Business concerning foods and drinks
- Social services
- Entertainment and exhibition
- Public gathering
- Public display
- Rental or sales business
- Public transportation
- Service establishments
- State and local governments
Main pillars of accessibility
Moreover, these ADA laws are enforceable by the federal government through the motions of the Department of Justice. The federal government can demand civil penalties and seek changes. Usually, the class action suits under this law target big businesses, forcing them to change their inaccessible practices.
So, to save yourself from the trouble of being sued under any of these legislations, ensure that you comply with accessibility standards- the four main pillars of accessibility that are elucidated in WCGA:
Your website must be easily readable and discernable by all users, especially those suffering from impaired vision.
Look at the Condor Hotel website, for instance. Their website has a clean interface and font that is effortlessly intelligible, and the text expands aptly to accommodate the changing screen orientations as per the user's device.
This allows it to be more adaptable to people suffering from visual disabilities like cataracts, tunnel vision, glaucoma, etc.
A responsive and easily navigable website design is a must. Moreover, it should be such that users can easily access it over any device and browser.
If you look at Shopify’s website, you will get an ideal sense of how responsive websites should be. The user experience on their website is consistent across all mediums of devices.
Additionally, the illustrations and CTA change as per the device used, making it easy to observe and access. Shopify's menu also changes to a hamburger icon when you use it on handheld devices, thus making it easy to navigate.
What’s most impressive is their loading speed which is under 5 seconds despite the image carousels!
Organize your website effortlessly, allowing your users to quickly spot important features and content. The more self-explanatory your website is, the easier it becomes to comprehend for the user.
Remember, minimalism is the key! Also, using a common language that most of your audience would understand will increase the website's relevance.
If you hop on Ginza’s website, you will find a very concise and clear web design. Their content is divided into easy-to-understand short copies, and the images further drive the point.
Moreover, the overall design is subtle and creates a sophisticated look, and allows a user to glide through the site without any difficulty.
Integrate your website with assistive technologies that help people with disabilities easily surf across your site.
You must be familiar with Netflix which uses several accessibility features and assistive technologies to provide the same entertaining experience to one and all.
Additionally, assistive listening systems, audio descriptions, keyboard shortcuts, compatibility with common screen readers, subtitles, and voice commands are some of its prime accessibility features.
No two people are ever the same– their needs differ, and so does their ability to comprehend, access, and use most things, including websites.
Since the number of people with disabilities is quite considerable and ever-growing, it's only fair to cater to their specific needs and requirements. Not to forget, offering equal access and providing them with a similar experience as you would to any other person is a must in this era.
Moreover, web accessibility brings with it a lot of positives too– from great brand image to reduced litigation affairs. On the other hand, if you ignore it, you run the risk of losing what could potentially be your biggest customer base.
So, the bottom line is when most of your consumer base is waking up to the idea of greater morality, ethics, and inclusivity, why shouldn't you?