The coronavirus created an urgent need in 2020 for companies to quickly shift to online platforms and web-based solutions to all types of operational challenges. This sudden awakening has forced firms to make changes that 1.2 billion people with disabilities throughout the world have demanded for years.
People everywhere are today experiencing a touch of what it feels like to have one’s ability to participate fully in daily life dramatically curtailed by an arbitrary barrier. At the same time, we all are learning how effectively and efficiently (when the incentives exist) workplaces and public spaces can be modified to truly expand accessibility and opportunities on a large scale.
The pressures to create a more accessible world will not subside in 2021. Suddenly, firms are learning that providing full access can do much more than cut the cost of litigation. Beyond the simple fact that enhancing digital accessibility is the right thing to do for the large community of people with disabilities, creating a vibrant and accessible digital presence is a powerful way to grow a business. The demands of people with disabilities and the sudden pandemic-generated awareness of the benefits of digital accessibility have aligned. This shared interest, leveraged properly, creates opportunities for everyone.
Here are some of the reasons why your company should make digital accessibility a top priority in 2021.
1. Most people will still spend more time at home in 2021
More citizens in 2021 will increasingly come to rely upon remote access to opportunities and necessities. One lesson learned from our experiences dealing with the pandemic in 2020 is that predicting anything is risky. It now seems axiomatic that once we feel that we are turning a corner in efforts to corral COVID-19, we get a surprise. Count on unpredictability and fluctuating levels of openings and lockdowns to continue through 2021.
2. Enhancing digital accessibility to your company will expand your customer base.
There are more that 60 million people with disabilities in the United States, 20% of the population, and that number is growing every day as our country’s inhabitants age. Additionally, U.S. Census Bureau data reveals that our average lifespans are increasing. Ignoring digital accessibility can mean that a large and growing segment of our population will not readily be able to access your business. Even a modestly difficult effort to gain access may trigger a potential customer to scroll over to your competitor. Studies show that over 70% of visitors to a website which they determine is inaccessible will "click away" and leave it for another.
It is estimated that people with disabilities control more than $175 billion in discretionary spending and over 82% of customers with disabilities would spend more if websites were more accessible.
3. Improve brand image and build long term customer loyalty
Even prior to the pandemic and the disruptions of 2020, business leaders were recognizing the importance of creating an overall positive experience for those accessing an organization through its digital platforms. The opportunity to become a leader in digital accessibility and stand out from the competitive crowd has now increased significantly in 2021 with virtually everyone seeking remote access to everyday needs and pleasures. Just as poor accessibility will cause people to "click away," people with disabilities will be drawn to a positive experience with an accessible presence.
With an enhanced online experience, visitors will interact longer with a brand and in the end become attached. A digital platform is an extension of a company’s brand and in 2021 will more often be the primary interface where company and customer meet. Though the disability community is a large and diverse minority, accessibility is among the top issues that this group deals with daily. When a particular firm demonstrates a true commitment to enhance accessibility the results can reverberate throughout this group. When people with disabilities are "locked out" they might talk about it with family, friends, and social media acquaintances. Similarly, recommendations of a standout accessible site will rapidly spread through the same network and help to build a strong brand and long term loyalty.
4. The surge in expensive digital accessibility claims and lawsuits continues
As shown in our digital accessibility lawsuit database, lawsuits in this space don't show any signs of going away any time soon. In fact, as the Complete Report: 2020 Website Accessibility Lawsuit Recap points out, there were thousands of website accessibility lawsuits filed last year nationwide — though the bulk are filed in New York and California.
Dealing with actual lawsuits may represent only the tip of the iceberg in defending against alleged web accessibility violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It has also been estimated that approximately 265,000 web accessibility demand letters were sent to businesses in 2020, which represents a dramatic increase from 2019.
It has been estimated that the cost of addressing even a single complaint regarding web accessibility can cost up to $10,000. Cases against website accessibility are clearly on the rise and avoiding legal risk by ensuring that websites and apps are accessible will be critical for many companies in 2021.
Making a company website easy to use, especially for people with disabilities, has been pushed to the forefront of business priorities in 2021 as everyone experiences an intensified need to rely upon technology to navigate life during the pandemic. This year brings both increased risk and opportunity for business as it addresses the challenges presented by a world demanding true remote access.