Accessibility - an Essential Investment
Launching a successful website is hard. There is a myriad of things you need to consider, including branding, design, content, and security to name just a few. Not forgetting of course, tight deadlines and restricted budgets.
With so many competing demands, is it therefore surprising accessibility is often an afterthought?
It is understandable that organisations might resist adding another deliverable that could increase the financial or time investment required. After all, it is only a minority of users who are affected, right?
Wrong. In the 2016 Census, 13.5% of the Irish population stated they had a disability. What is more, this figure is expected to rise by 20% by 2026! With over a third of the population expected to have some form of disability in 4 years time, does that sound like an edge case your business can afford to ignore?
"The power of the web lies in its universality. Access for everyone, regardless of disability, is an essential aspect"
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C director and inventor of the World Wide Web
The power of the web lies in the fact that it is - supposedly - for everyone; every user, regardless of limitations, should have the same opportunity to access websites and web applications.
It is time to admit though that we have failed to deliver on that promise.
In the most recent annual accessibility analysis of the top 1 million website home pages, WebAIM found over 97% of analysed sites had accessibility violations.
Who benefits from web accessibility?
To put it simply, everyone.
When talking about web accessibility, most people think it simply means optimising a website for people with disabilities. However, all users who are restricted in their ability to use digital products, whether it be permanent, temporary or situational, will benefit.
Microsoft released a very informative toolkit on inclusive design to help explain why designing for everyone is so important and that all people may be subject to a limitations depending on the situation.
As you can see, all types of users can be affected at least temporarily or situationally. In short: everyone is affected - so everyone will benefit!
How does accessibility benefit my organisation?
Truthfully, making your website accessible, in particular retrospectively, will require some investment. However, there are a lot of reasons why organisations should prioritise accessibility. We have outlined a few of these benefits below.
Access to a larger market
According to the World Health Organisation, about 15% of all people worldwide live with a disability. And as outlined earlier, the number of people with disabilities is expected to rise over the coming years.
In a survey conducted by Click-Away Pound in 2019, 69% of shoppers with disabilities will click away from your website if it is too difficult to use. Not only that, the majority (86%) of these consumers will pay more money for the same item on a competitor's website if that site is more accessible.
From a financial point of view, this has huge potential because consumers who are not able to use your website easily will go elsewhere.
Create Positive Brand Association
The best brands understand that branding is not just about having an attractive logo, nice colour scheme or even the quality of the product itself; it's about how customers feel about their brand.
Most consumers today make value-based decisions. When you add inclusiveness to your brand values and make an effort to go above and beyond to serve all users, it will make your brand stand out. Value-oriented customers will be more loyal and more committed to your brand.
Ease of Use
Ultimately, improving the user experience for users with disabilities also improves the user experience for everyone. For example, good colour contrast can help improve readability and reduce eye strain, while logical page headers can help with quick page comprehension.
And of course, if you make your site easier to use, this in turn can lead to a higher conversion rate, so benefits all round!
Improve your site's SEO
Another great benefit that comes with having an accessible website is that the steps taken to ensure good accessibility also benefit your site's SEO.
What is good for screen readers is good for web crawlers too. More semantically structured content, such as correct heading usage, allow your content to be indexed more easily. While relevant page titles, more meaningful link text, and appropriate alternative text on images, all play a part.
In addition, Google and other search engines are increasingly taking into consideration other metrics, such as the site's user experience, when ranking your site. And as good accessibility contributes to a good user experience, making your website accessible can have a positive impact on your site's ranking in search engines.
Reduction of potential legal risks
In 2019, global pizza giant Dominos lost a lawsuit in the US to a visually impaired man who was unable to order through their website despite the fact that he was using a screen reader. While a huge win for disability advocates, it highlights that there can be serious legal repercussions for businesses that do not offer an accessible user experience.
Last year, UsableNet reported an increase of 20% in the total number of cases in the US related to digital accessibility. What is more, once COVID-19 lockdowns came into effect, causing retail outlets to close and forcing users to shop more online, the lawsuit filing rate increased by more than 50%!
In Ireland, the European Union (Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications of Public Sector Bodies) Regulations 2020 came into force on 23 September 2020. While this only applies to public sector websites currently, it is likely to be extended to other sectors in the coming years.
Therefore, you should strive for at least the basic level of compliance if you want to avoid potential risks of legal action in the future.
What can I do about it?
Web accessibility can be complex. However, the most commonly found accessibility issues are actually fairly simple to solve - for example, providing alternative text for images.
The first step is to find out what you can improve. Undertaking an accessibility review of your website is a good place to start. This will give you a list of things that need to be addressed, and then you can work your way through them, focusing on fixing those that will have the biggest impact first.
Web accessibility, just like website maintenance, is an on-going process. Regardless of the level of accessibility you are aiming to achieve, we recommend you continuously work towards providing an accessible user experience for everyone. If you do not, then you may find yourself losing potential customers or damaging your brand.
For further reading on the subject, why not have a look at a recent article we wrote on universal design and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - The Ubiquity of the Internet and the Pivotal Role of Web Accessibility.
Need help ensuring your website is accessible?
Contact us to find out more about our accessibility audits and how we can help.
Stella Power Managing Director
As well as being the founder and managing director of Annertech, Stella is one of the best known Drupal contributors in the world.