Accessibility is increasingly a hot topic but is not always front of mind for business owners and executives as they plan crucial website features. There are many factors to consider when redesigning a website, and it's common for businesses to leave accessibility to the end or not consider it at all.
Often accessibility is left out of the web design and development process because no one involved in the project is familiar with accessibility, or stakeholders may believe there's little benefit to investing in an accessible website.
As customers interact with businesses more and more through websites, having an accessible website is increasingly important. If your company is new to website accessibility, here are five things that your leadership team needs to know.
1. Accessibility features benefit everyone
Accessible websites are websites that all people on all devices can use equally.
Most people know that website accessibility features aid blind or low-vision individuals and deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. For example, accurate alternative text on images allows screen readers to describe images to people who cannot see them. Captions on videos enable people who cannot hear the audio to read it instead. These are commonly recognized types of people who benefit from web accessibility features.
But accessible websites also benefit a much larger group of people across a broad spectrum of abilities and situations, including:
- People with mobility differences that limit their ability to use a traditional mouse or keyboard.
- People with cognitive or learning disabilities.
- People who have dyslexia or experience difficulties reading.
- People with epilepsy or seizure disorders that are triggered by light or flashes.
- People with anxiety or who experience stress when faced with time limits.
- People who are English (or other) language learners and who rely on translation tools.
- People on metered or low-bandwidth internet connections or mobile devices.
- People who are situationally unable to play sounds or audio.
Some entrepreneurs and executives mistakenly think that they don't have any customers who require an accessible website, but they fail to consider that not all disabilities and challenges are visible. Many of your customers likely have hidden disabilities of which you're not aware. Additionally, considering that many limitations, including vision impairments and mobility challenges, come with age, it's safe to say we're all aging into a state of disability that may require accessibility features in the future.
Making your website accessible will benefit a broad swath of the population, and it's good for your business' bottom line, too.
2. Accessibility is good for business
Companies with limited marketing budgets understandably look to cut costs where they can, but building and maintaining an accessible website is 100% worth the investment.
As of 2018, the CDC stated that one-in-four U.S. adults live with a disability, representing 25% of our population. American Institutes for Research says people with disabilities control over $500 billion in discretionary spending (PDF) annually.
Numerous studies have found that having an accessible website can increase customer satisfaction and retention. Many accessibility features, such as alternative text on images, transcripts of audio or video files, and the inclusion of headings and proper semantic HTML, are also useful for search engine ranking. Accessibility can help more people find your website and make it possible for them to take desired actions on the site, such as filling out a form or making a purchase. If you could increase your customer base by 25%, what would that do for your business?
Besides the benefits of accessibility, not having an accessible website can also put your business at risk. By some estimates, the cost of responding to a website accessibility lawsuit averages $350,000 in attorney's fees alone, not including any settlement fees. In 2020, there were 2,058 lawsuits and 265,000 estimated demand letters sent. For companies that get sued, it becomes rapidly apparent that businesses can't afford to have inaccessible websites.
3. Accessibility and privacy go hand-in-hand
In particular industries, especially banking and health care, websites may collect sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) such as social security numbers, addresses, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protected medical information. E-commerce websites collect credit card data.
If your website is not accessible, people with disabilities may need to ask someone to help them complete necessary forms or transactions. If they attempt to complete forms on their own and form fields do not adequately communicate their purpose, they may enter sensitive information into the wrong fields where it won't be obscured or protected. Both of these situations put people with disabilities and their data at risk of being exploited.
For businesses with a legal obligation to protect customer or user information, having an accessible website is vital for fulfilling that obligation.
4. Accessibility isn't hard, but it can't be achieved with a single line of code
Neither of these statements is correct.
Businesses cannot achieve website accessibility via automated scanning and "fixing" tools or overlays for two reasons:
- Automated scanning cannot identify all accessibility problems. Most accessibility professionals believe that only 30-40% of errors can be identified algorithmically, and the rest require a manual test of the page by a human being.
- Many accessibility problems, including those identifiable with an automated tool, require nuanced decision making when applying or deciding on fixes that only a human can make.
Only a combination of automated and manual testing can determine true accessibility.
Accessibility requires thoughtfulness and attention to detail, but it doesn't have to be hard. Many accessibility issues can be resolved directly within your website's content editor without needing to edit code. For cases that are code related, a developer can typically resolve these problems quickly once a plan of attack has been decided. With a little training, every member of your website or marketing team can help make your website more accessible.
5. Accessibility doesn't always require a large budget
Accessible websites can fit into budgets of any size and don't have to be incredibly expensive.
In the best-case scenario, accessibility is considered at every stage of the project rather than at the end. Approaching your new website build from an accessibility-first perspective means reduced costs as designs and code are accessible from the beginning, and no one needs to go back and repeat work.
Many existing website content management systems and building tools have templates and plugins designed with accessibility in mind. Even if your company does not have the budget for a custom-designed website, there are low-cost options for building an accessible website based on an existing theme or template.
If you have an existing website that needs to be audited or remediated, there are accessibility consulting firms that provide audits and remediation at competitive prices. Companies like ours offer packages that allow you to spread costs over several months, as remediation happens incrementally over time.
Amber Hinds, CEO, Equalize Digital
Amber Hinds is the CEO of Equalize Digital, a website accessibility consulting firm striving to create a world where all people have equal access to information and tools on the internet, regardless of ability. Since 2010, Amber has led digital marketing campaigns for businesses, nonprofits, higher education institutions, and government agencies. User experience has always been a primary focus of Amber's work, and after having the opportunity to experience first-hand the importance of accessible websites through a blind acquaintance, she founded Equalize Digital. Amber is a corporate member of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.