One in five Americans reports living with a disability. Still, covered entities are often uninterested or unaware of their accessibility and access requirements. Small businesses in particular, with limited resources and niche markets that do not appear to be "general public" based services, often overlook what ultimately amounts to a denial of civil rights − equal access to the programs, services, activities, and goods provided by the organization.
Regardless of how accessibility is framed, covered entities have a moral, legal, and financial obligation to prioritize access for all customers.
Why accessibility is essential for small businesses
Failure to ensure accessibility can have significant consequences for small businesses. This includes a loss of customers and revenue, potential for enforcement activity, and debased organizational culture.
Loss of customers and revenue
More than 200 million Americans shop online. Approximately 10 million of those Americans will have a visual impairment, more than 10 million will have a hearing impairment, and more than 4 million will have severe limitations to their dexterity.
E-commerce represents 11% of total U.S. retail sales, and that number will grow to approximately 16% in 2023. 71% of shoppers with disabilities will leave a website if it is too difficult to use. Studies show that most of these consumers (82%) will willingly pay more money for the same item on a competitor’s website if that site is more accessible.
The question really becomes: if you could expand your product's reach 12 - 25% and do the right thing at the same time, would you?
Potential for enforcement activity
Equal access is a legal requirement in the United States. Still, more than 90% of customers with disabilities who experience accessibility challenges don’t reach out to the business or entity to notify them of the barriers they face. This is especially true when organizations do not have robust accessibility and accommodation statements that communicate how individuals report those challenges. Without providing input, many will turn to the bench to remedy accessibility barriers.
Lawsuits related to ADA web accessibility increased by 183 percent from 2017 to 2018 (814 cases to 2285). This trend continued into the 2020s with the number of U.S. lawsuits rising 64% in the first half of 2021. The simple truth is, failure to comply with ADA standards will most likely result in legal action in the long run.
The right thing to do
"Accessibility is morally the right thing to do." An argument that many know far too well, yet it is one that most individuals with disabilities are tired of hearing. While it is excellent there are so many advocates raising "awareness," developing clubs that promote accessibility, and engaging leadership across the country to address equality, ultimately, access is a right, not a feel-good story.
Still, we'll take progress as it comes. And it is true, organizations that demonstrate a commitment to ensuring equal access, as a moral obligation, also tend to share values that foster inclusive and innovative environments − beliefs that are often strongly codified in company culture and appreciated by employees and customers of the organization. Microsoft calls this an "Inclusive Culture Mindset."
All in all
Whether an organization begins its journey for financial, legal, or moral reasons, everyone has the right to equal access; and organizations that have websites (who doesn't?) must recognize the needs of customers with disabilities.
Small businesses and startups often argue that they lack the time and resources to make accessibility a priority; we'd argue that don't have the time and resources not to make their infrastructure accessible.
View the detailed ADA Guide for Small Businesses, an essential resource from the Department of Justice, for more information on improving accessibility for all.