Don’t Cost Your Company Money by Ignoring Accessibility

By Amanda Parkhurst, Senior UX Designer

Accessibility has become more of a buzz word lately, but it’s not clear what accessibility is, who would benefit, or why your company should use resources to implement a more accessible site or app. New sites or redesigns are already large expenditures, with tough conversations centering on what is within scope and what will be cut. And then there’s the legal aspect and potential risk of being sued if your digital offerings are not accessible. Guiding your company through a cost benefit analysis of whether to move forward with accessibility, or simply putting it off, can be overwhelming and garner more questions than answers.

Beyond the what, who and why, you may have also encountered some common questions or misconceptions like:

  • If my company spends the money, will we get the return on investment for our effort?
  • The disabled market isn’t that large and they don’t use our website or app currently.
  • How real is the threat of a lawsuit and have other companies like mine been sued for not complying to accessibility practices?
  • How do we make the business case for designing and building an accessible digital experience?

It’s easy to see why designing and building an accessible site or app becomes a ‘nice to have’ during the scoping process with so many unanswered questions. Clear, tangible reasons need to be apparent before you decide to stick your neck out and advocate for an accessible site for all users.

What is accessibility?

According to the Web Accessibility Initiative, web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. Specifically, users are able to ‘perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web’ and have features designed to accommodate auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual impairments.

Why companies should care

Undoubtedly, companies build long lists of features they want to incorporate into their digital experience, but inevitably they don’t have enough time or resources to implement every feature. Something will need to be cut, and unless there is a clear business case for a feature, it will usually end up being left out. Factors such as the positive monetary impact to your business, or the negative impact of a lawsuit and ensuing bad publicity can often be the data points that can help tip the scales in favor of implementing a digital experience with accessibility in mind. Not only is it good for the bottom line, it’s just the right thing to do. Below, we’ll dive into a deeper breakdown of why this should matter to your company.


Financial factors

Creating revenue is an understandable motivation and creating a more accessible digital experience can increase your market share. 20% of the US population has a permanent disability, in addition to those that have a temporary or situational disability. On a global scale there are 1.3 billion people with a disability, with an annual disposable income of $1.2 trillion, according to the Return on Disability 2016 report.

Developing a site that is accessible will improve your search engine rankings as well. A structured, accessible site exposes your content to search engines through searchable images, video transcripts, and will likely rank higher due to being correctly marked up with clear headings and sub-headings. That means that more people can find your site that might not otherwise – again increasing your reach and your potential revenue.


Legal considerations

The possibility of a lawsuit has become a looming threat due to changes in regulation. Governments of developed countries around the world are placing greater focus on disability issues than ever before. According to the Web Accessibility Initiative “many countries are ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which specifically includes accessibility of the Internet and other information and communications technology (ICT). Thus, countries that have ratified the Convention might be introducing new “policies, laws and administrative measures” related to Web accessibility.” IP Watchdog noted that “more than 260 website accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2016, and significantly more were filed by the end of 2017.”  Some of the lawsuites affected well known corporations such as the ones listed below.

    • In July of 2015 Carnival Cruise Lines was sued and one of the terms of the agreement cited was: “The accessibility of Carnival Corp. websites and mobile applications will comply with WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA”
    • In 2013 a complaint was filed against H&R Block. A landmark decree was issued that stated: “Under the terms of the five year decree, H&R Block’s website, tax filing utility and mobile apps will conform to the Level AA Success Criteria of the WCAG 2.0”
    • The Target Corporation settled a class action lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in August 2008 and agreed to pay class damages of $6 million, as well as NFB’s attorney’s fees and costs of $3.7 million.
    • In October of 2018, Hulu reached a settlement agreement to increase the accessibility of Hulu’s streaming service to individuals who are blind or have low vision. As a result, Hulu will undertake efforts to make its website and software applications accessible via screen readers and will provide audio description tracks for streaming content where possible.

In addition, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility noted that there have already been more than 1000 lawsuits filed in 2018 in industries such as clothing, telecommunications, restaurants, consumer goods, and e-commerce. The time to take action is now to make sure your company reacts before becoming the next statistic.


Web accessibility is a form of corporate social responsibility

Consumers have become savvier over the years and expect the companies they do business with to be more socially aware and not solely focused on making money. The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative characterizes web accessibility as a form of corporate social responsibility.  It generally means conducting business ethically and operating an organization in such a way that treats internal and external stakeholders ethically, and is good for society and the environment.

Millennials in particular want to know where their dollars are going and if the company represents their values. This younger demographic tends to research companies to understand how they align themselves and what they are willing to stand up for. Negative press around a site or app being inaccessible can be the reason they ditch your site and go to a competitor’s site that is accessible, ethical, and is authentically standing up for the greater good.

Taking this a step further, accessibility is giving a voice and ability to take action where customers might not otherwise be given a voice. Instead of living on the fringes, your customers can now engage and take part in society, and in turn become brand ambassadors for your company.


Who has a disability?

who has a disabilityYou may wonder who has a disability and is it really large enough to impact the market share you currently have. It’s a much larger number than most of us would imagine. According to the last US Census taken, 1 in 5 people (about 56.7 million) in the US have a disability. While this number accounts for people with permanent disabilities, there is a range when it comes to our ability to use an app or a website. We tend to think of disabled users only as those that have a permanent disability.

Jakob Nielsen said: “… it’s an oversimplification to distinguish between users with and without disabilities as if that were a dichotomy. It’s really a continuum of people with more or less severe disabilities. For example, most users over the age of 45 have somewhat reduced vision and need resizable fonts, even if they don’t qualify under the official definition as “low-vision users.”

To illustrate that point, Microsoft developed a persona spectrum that depicts the range between permanent disabilities and temporary or situational limitations. We tend to be more clear on permanent disabilities, such as being blind or deaf, but we don’t necessarily think of disabilities along a spectrum. Temporary disabilities are experienced by people temporarily, in cases such as illness or injury. We know there is an end-point where we will return to our pre-injury state.  Situational limitations on the other hand are short term, but still limit our ability in some way. One example could be a new parent holding a baby in one hand, which gives them only a single arm to navigate their mobile device.

Now that we have an idea of who has a disability, it becomes clearer that there is a large percent of the population that may be excluded from using your app or site. The statistic above that referenced 1 in 5 with a permanent disability does not include those with a temporary or situational limitations. If they can’t access it, they will go somewhere else where they can spend their money. 


What should I do next? 

Now that you know more about what accessibility is, who is affected, and understand the financial implications, you probably want to bolt out of your seat and start taking action. The first step is to become an advocate for accessibility within your company to give a voice to those potential customers that may not be able to use your site or app. The next step is to have accessibility pulled through all stages of your design process. For instance, when your marketing team is creating personas to represent your customer base, they should represent a full range of abilities. When designing screens or pages, ask how it could be simplified so that it not only makes it easier for someone with a disability to use, but actually makes it simpler for everyone to use; i.e. using voice UI to open a car door when you’re carrying groceries. Finally, talk to people of all ability levels and learn how they use your products and test your new designs or prototypes with them. Find out what is working well and what needs to additional thought to find a suitable solution.

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