Digital Accessibility for Small Businesses

Published April 16, 2024

There are approximately 33,185,550 small businesses in the United States. A small business is defined by its number of employees or revenue. Because small businesses differ from larger corporations, there may be confusion about how accessibility, specifically digital accessibility, applies to them. 

So, how does digital accessibility apply to small businesses? What should small business owners keep in mind when considering digital accessibility? Let’s examine some laws and situations for small business owners to know and understand when they think of digital accessibility. 

Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a piece of legislation that applies to employers with 15 or more employees and state and local governments. It also applies to public accommodations – which includes websites. So, even though a business may have less than 15 employees, the ADA will still apply to the company’s website, as it is public-facing. 

Although the ADA does not explicitly mention websites, interpretations and lawsuits brought forth in years since it was passed have grown to include websites in what the ADA covers. The Department of Justice (DoJ) has released guidance on what the ADA means for website accessibility. Specifically, the DoJ’s guidance states that the ADA applies not only to state and local government websites but to businesses open to the public. 

The ADA has an “undue hardship” clause that allows for leniency within the rules and regulations of the ADA if following them causes an “undue hardship” for the business. An “undue hardship” means that if an accommodation is too disruptive, financially or otherwise, the business is exempt from deploying said accommodation. However, when considering digital accessibility, “undue hardship” is usually not an issue “...because removing web-based barriers “is neither difficult nor especially costly.”


Another set of standards small businesses should consider when considering digital accessibility: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is an international set of standards that govern websites and determine accessibility features like color contrast, captions, etc. WCAG should be considered from the beginning of building a business’s website, as it is much easier to build accessibility into a website from the start than to try and add it later. 

Adhering to WCAG standards can also help lower the risk of lawsuits. Though most lawsuits are filed on ADA violations, WCAG is a cornerstone of compliance with many laws, including the ADA and Section 508, another accessibility law.  By ensuring their website is WCAG compliant, a small business can also be on the ball for ADA compliance, thus limiting any potential for expensive digital accessibility lawsuits. 

Ensuring a website is WCAG-compliant may also be beneficial for customer retention. 1 in 4 US adults have some form of disability, which means that it’s highly likely a person with a disability will visit a small business’s website. Having a website that is accessible means that in the inevitable time that a person with a disability visits it, they will not be blocked by inaccessible features or struggle to use the website as intended. Having a website free of inaccessible features may help showcase your commitment to accessibility and draw more customers in. 

Best practices

For small businesses to keep digital accessibility a priority, there are some best practices they can follow when it comes to their websites. First, ensure common barriers are addressed. All videos on a website should have captions, images should have alternative text, and all colors used should adhere to prescribed color contrast requirements (4.5:1 and 3:1). Captions ensure that people with hearing disabilities can understand all video content by providing a text substitute for sound in a video. Alternative text, or alt text, substitutes images for people with visual disabilities who use screen readers. Color contrast is important for people with visual disabilities as well, as it improves the readability of the site. 

Going further, a small business should ensure its website is laid out correctly, with “skip navigation” links for those that use keyboard navigation to navigate a site. “Skip navigation” allows these users to skip past repeated content that would otherwise bog them down. Headings should also be laid out correctly so the site is navigable using a screen reader and the page is easy to follow and understand. 

Finally, small businesses should test their website. This can happen in the design phase and routinely after. Testing helps catch places where the site is inaccessible or does not pass WCAG standards. Using a combination of automatic and manual testing is recommended. Several testing services are available—small businesses should be sure to vet which one they wish to use thoroughly. 


For small businesses, embracing digital accessibility is not just a legal obligation but a strategic business decision that can increase customer satisfaction, market expansion, and competitive advantage. By taking proactive steps towards accessibility, small businesses can demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and social responsibility, fostering a positive brand image and building loyalty among a broader customer base.


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