Why should I care about this?
Web accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites. When sites are designed, developed, and maintained for accessibility all users gain equal access to information and functionality. Everyone, including people with and without disabilities, are placed on an equal playing field when navigating and taking in information.
For business, accessibility can expand your reach to the broadest audience possible.
1 in 4 people in the US have some type of disability. Consider that in terms of the population of New York City. Imagine if you were to open a brick and mortar store in NYC and kept a fourth of the population of the city from being able to access your store. That’s a lot of missed business. In the case of NYC, whose current population is 8.6 million, you’d be effectively cutting off roughly 2.15 million potential clients. Now consider how many missed opportunities that accounts for when your platform is as far-reaching as a website.
A Business Case for Web Accessibility
Businesses are looking for help to align accessibility requirements with business objectives. Let's take a moment to touch on what I consider to be the primary pillars that help you to build a bridge between business goals and accessibility requirements. Focusing on different areas can show how accessibility can have lasting positive effects on a company allowing it to grow in new ways.
Many may see accessibility from the start as an added cost that can be skipped for what is deemed more important. This simply isn’t the case. Putting forth the cost at the start to make certain you reach this broader audience later presents a large ROI (return on investment).
A broader audience means a chance for more conversions. Now, having an accessible site doesn’t mean that’s going to bring an interest to your site initially. Being accessible helps those that come to your site find their way around easier and digest information better. We’ve all interacted with something at one point or another that has frustrated us to use. Nothing drives abandonment on your website like a frustrating user experience, especially for those arriving at your site with a visual impairment or using assistive technology. Making a site easy to navigate for everyone raises your chance of converting a one-stop shopper into a lifetime patron.
If you've read other blogs here at Mediacurrent you've heard us say that search engine optimized site may not be accessible but an accessible site is more SEO friendly. Hierarchical heading structure, effective use of meta language and title tags, and well-formatted structure helps Google to identify what's important on your site and is inherently more screen reader friendly. Web pages that don’t adhere to at least basic accessibility standards are docked for it in rankings, making them less likely to be discovered by web searchers looking for that perfect gardening tool or My Little Pony collectible.
For today’s consumer, quality counts. As a business, it’s important to put your best foot forward and in many instances this starts with your company’s brand and digital presence. A brand is more than just a logo. A brand is a statement that tells the world who you are as a company. By taking the time to make certain you’re trying to create and maintain an accessible site, you’re telling the world that your business is inclusive and attentive to everybody and ultimately communicating a sense of quality in your branding.
In other words, by making the user experience as accessible as you can, you can attach that as a part of your brand which creates a feel good factor. This feel good factor makes those that buy in consider the product to be a better quality simply because it makes them feel good to be a part of culture.
Building Customer Loyalty
Your brand isn’t just the message, either, it’s also partly a client interaction with the product. If you make a point to say your brand is inclusive, you have to be certain that you maintain your product. If you don’t, there is a disconnect between your brand philosophy and your content. This can leave patrons feeling confused or worse. It could leave them feeling deceived or that you have an indifference towards people who have different accessibility requirements.
There is a growing culture of social consciousness. Because of the internet’s dissemination of information, people are becoming more aware of what’s out there. This paired with the current awareness that society is developing to fairness can cause people to seek out brands that line up with their own personal philosophies. It’s becoming more and more important that brands keep this in mind as not being attentive to the needs of its clients puts forth the message that a business has no social consciousness and this can cause people to move away to other choices.
Most important to any business is growth and you can’t achieve proper growth without understanding where the market is going. Well, the market is going accessible and not just because it broadens the range of people it can affect. Next generation technology is dependent on accessible features properly being in place. Devices like Siri, Alexa, and others rely on advanced screen reader tech to parse information from the web in a clear and understandable way so that they can relay that information to the user. Because of these devices, the growth and need for screen readers is increasing annually. Like it or not, accessible is the future and in order for a business to keep up in an ever-changing world they need to be on the cutting edge. Maintaining an accessible site puts your business above others, giving you an edge as modern technology advances.
If those aren’t convincing enough then consider risk management. There is a high chance that having a big business with an inaccessible site can result in a civil lawsuit. Just last year an excess of 2250 websites had suits brought against them including Blick Art and Five Guys’ Burgers. A bigger business may be able to afford this mistake but for many smaller ones, this sort of thing could be the difference between keeping the lights on or closing up shop.
In an ideal world, each feature on a website would be created to be the most accessible version of itself covering everything from visual, auditory, physical, and cognitive issues but this very rarely is the case. There’s always going to be restrictions of budgets and time that force a developer to focus on just a handful of issues. Because of this, you have to consider what is important to you and your business. If you are going to take the time to find what is important to your customers it has to be close to you first.
Common Accessibility Areas
There are several general rules of thumb that can help touch on a broad range of disabilities when trying to create an accessible website such as alt text, semantic HTML, and a clear design with high contrast. These can easily be implemented from the very start of a project, but it’s important to consider what common disabilities you may expect your audience to have when interacting with both your site and your product. As an example, the Museum of Contemporary Art, when redesigning their site back in 2015, made a point to spearhead a project that would make alt text a highly important item. The alt text provided text descriptions of what was being depicted within the images on their website, allowing the art to become more equitable to the visually impaired.
Even after assessing what is important for your company, it doesn’t end there. As mentioned above, technology is always changing and with it, so is accessibility. It is important that, once you target what is important for your business, you make certain you keep those features as up to date as possible. If you don’t, you’ll find your site will start to fall behind others who are striving to keep up which can cost your business the edge it previously had.
Many factors contribute to the success of a brand and Mediacurrent’s experience has shown that accessibility is an important one. If accessibility is something you haven’t considered in the past, perhaps now it’s more apparent why it should be something moving forward.
If you need help with an accessibility audit, resolving some known issues on your site, or convincing your leadership to take action on website accessibility, we’re here for you. Drop us a line.
Editor's note: This post was originally published on March 27, 2018. It has been updated by Mediacurrent's accessibility team for clarity and accuracy based on current information.