Learn how to stay in compliance so you can gain new customers and avoid lawsuits.
- Nearly 7 million Americans live with disabilities. A recent survey shows 54% of disabled adults use the internet.
- An accessible website makes it easier for disabled consumers to shop at your online business, which is advantageous because this demographic spends more than $200 billion in discretionary spending every year.
- To find out if your website meets accessibility requirements, you can use automated software or work with companies that test your site using both human testers and software.
User-driven lawsuits around website accessibility are on the rise, and business owners need to take note.
Not only is providing an accessible website and mobile experience the right thing to do, but in not doing so, business owners open themselves up to potential legal repercussions and alienate a large portion of the population who could be potential customers.
Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted a study about the online habits of adults with disabilities and found that almost 54% of the people polled visit websites online.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest figures, 56.7 million Americans live with disabilities, and nearly 38.3 million citizens have a severe impairment. Companies can't afford to ignore this growing demographic of online consumers and should design websites that follow accessibility standards.
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Making a strong case for website accessibility
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international organization that develops the standards for internet sites. The organization conducts educational and outreach initiatives about web-related technologies. Stakeholders from the government, consumer groups and private industry help them to develop web standards.
Recently, the W3C released an advocacy document called "The Business Case for Digital Accessibility." The article examined the rationale for companies and nonprofits to integrate accessibility standards. The consortium says organizations must provide accessible websites for people with disabilities because these products help everyone.
Additionally, an Iowa College of Law study found accessibility provides tangible and intangible benefits for businesses. Their researchers studied Fortune 100 companies that designed accessible technology. They found that companies that prioritized accessibility provided consumers with better user experience. These businesses also developed a loyal customer base and created innovative products that increased their profits.
In short, providing accessible websites is a win-win for both consumers and businesses.
4 bottom-line benefits of accessible websites
Accessibility standards offer several advantages to the organizations that implement them. Here are a few worth mentioning.
1. Accessible websites spur innovation.
These websites are designed to be simple, flexible and usable. They are also efficient and render well across a variety of platforms. The products used to achieve accessibility include voice assistants, electronic devices, assistive technologies and operating systems. Additionally, accessible sites are useful for all people, whether or not they have a disability.
In 2016, Fast Company released a study about Google's investment in accessibility. The internet giant improved contrast features to help people with low vision read screen content better. Google developed additional features like auto-complete, auto-captioning and voice control. The company's engineers initially designed these features for people with disabilities, but they are now widely used by millions.
2. Accessibility improves corporate branding.
Businesses show they care about their corporate social responsibility (CSR) when they offer accessible, inclusive websites. These responsive platforms demonstrate that organizations care about the diverse needs of their customers and stakeholders, which enhances the companies' branding, imaging and reputation, and can also increase customer loyalty and sales.
3. Accessible sites increase your market reach.
Companies cannot afford to ignore people with disabilities, as they make up almost 15% of the world's population. This demographic can spend an estimated $6.9 trillion in annual disposable income. In the U.S., these consumers spend more than $200 billion in discretionary spending every year.
4. Accessible websites decrease legal liability.
Today, many organizations develop an online presence to increase awareness about their branding. Unfortunately, this move can expose companies to legal risks, as individuals or governments can impose legal ramifications on businesses that don't provide accessibility features; thus, accessible websites reduce organizations' legal liability and the chances of being sued.
Many countries have passed laws requiring digital accessibility on technological platforms. The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) published a human rights document that says everyone should have equal access to communications technology. The United Nations' General Assembly ratified it in 2018.
In the United States, government officials have cited businesses that haven't complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Free digital accessibility resources, like the ones provided by the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, are a good jumping-off point for businesses to start the journey of becoming accessible.
What are the web content accessibility guidelines?
How can a company create accessible websites for their visitors? They must follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) explain how to make online content accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their impairment.
WCAG's 4 principles of accessibility
According to the WCAG 2.1 guidelines, accessible websites must meet four standards. All online platforms must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. The W3C designed these success criteria to be technology-neutral and objective. If companies don't satisfy all four principles, people with disabilities may not be able to successfully access their site.
1. Create perceivable sites.
Organizations must present content and user interface components in ways that allow all people to perceive them. Sites must meet the following success criteria.
- Text alternatives for non-text content: Webmasters should provide text alternatives for all multimedia content so people with disabilities can change them into usable forms such as large print, speech, braille, symbols and simplified language.
- Adaptable content: Providers should offer publishable web content in a variety of formats. For example, you could provide simplified layouts that present content without losing information or structure.
- Distinguishable content: Web providers should make the content easier for users to see and hear, including separating foreground items from backgrounds.
Visit the W3C's "Perceivable" section to learn all requirements.
2. Design operable interfaces and pages.
User interface components and website navigation must be operable. This principle means that users can operate interfaces, and it doesn't require interactions that they can't perform. Organizations should satisfy three success criteria in this area.
- Keyboard access: The W3C recommends that businesses make all functionality available from a keyboard interface without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes, except where the underlying process require the end user's input or movement.
- Time controls: Providers must give users sufficient time to read and use the content. They must also provide ways to help people navigate, find content and figure out where they are on the site.
- Photosensitivity awareness: Webmasters should take care to avoid design content that could provoke seizures or physical reactions.
Read the W3C's "Operable" section for more details on these requirements.
3. Content and interfaces must be understandable.
The third WCAG principle means users must be able to understand how to navigate the interface. The design should be straightforward and materials should be easy to read. Companies must meet the following three success criteria.
- Readable: Text content must be clear, concise and comprehensible.
- Predictable: Web pages should operate predictably.
- Input assistance: Companies should provide a tool that helps users avoid and correct mistakes. For example, the tool should offer suggestions to help users fix input mistakes, except in cases where it would jeopardize the content's security or purpose.
For more information, read the W3C's "Understandable" section.
4. Content should be robust.
Content should be robust enough to be reliably translated by a majority of user agents and assistive technologies. Additionally, companies must ensure content stays accessible to users as technologies and user agents change. Companies should maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
Visit the W3C's "Robust" section for more information about the fourth principle.
Meeting conformance requirements
Some companies use automated software evaluation programs to see if their site conforms to the WCAG 2.1 standards, but oftentimes, automated software is lacking in real-world application and can miss bottlenecks that a disabled person might encounter when visiting a website.
Other organizations such as the Bureau of Internet Accessibility use human testers, combined with automated software to administer more robust website testing.
Whichever route you decide to take, it's time to get on board with internet accessibility. For business owners, non-profit organizations and other website owners, having a non-compliant website could be a costly mistake.