The Business Impact of Website Accessibility

Keyboard with Accessibility Key

Launching a successful website is hard. Modern projects require a lot of moving pieces and the cooperation of many disciplines. Sometimes, it feels like juggling chainsaws on a high-wire just to get the thing across the finish line, and every single step costs time and money.

It’s understandable that stakeholders would balk at adding yet another priority to the mix. When it comes to accessibility, they can question whether the investment is “worth it.” Big projects have big goals, on top of a target ROI, and focusing on “edge cases” would not seem to help with any of those critical success metrics.

But there is a clear business case for focusing on accessibility.

The myth: website users with disabilities are an edge case

When many organizations think of website users with disabilities, they think of a small number of users, and that losing those users won’t impact their bottom line.

Let’s crunch some numbers. 

You’ve spent the time and the money to develop a new website to serve your users better. The product owners and project managers are happy, and your stakeholders are ready to celebrate. But then the development team surprises you with the bad news: this website is great, but it doesn’t work on the West Coast. Or in Georgia. 

“This is horrible!” you say. “Nearly twenty-five percent of our population can’t access this website!”

It’s very impressive that you know the West Coast population is over 51 million people, and adding Georgia to that gets you to 61 million. But did you know that the CDC found that 61 million Americans - that’s 1 in 4 adults - lives with a disability?

That isn’t an edge case. That’s a quarter of the population of the United States.

All joking aside, website accessibility is a serious consideration for business websites, and not just because creating an accessible internet is the right thing to do.

When you disregard website accessibility’s impact on your bottom line, you’re potentially missing out on tens of millions of website visitors who can’t navigate your site. At the very least, this is bad for business. 

Reduce your legal exposure

Beyond leaving cash on the table, understanding the size of this segment of site visitors underscores the liability exposure your business could face. We are not lawyers, and you should not take this as legal advice. You should ask your own legal team about these issues.

Are you legally required to be accessible? This question used to be easier to answer, but now there is a lot of grey area. Section 508 requires all public sector organizations and private organizations that accept public funding to provide access to individuals with disabilities.

For everyone else, the situation is more ambiguous. In June of 2017, Winn-Dixie lost the first major ADA lawsuit in the private sector, with the plaintiff claiming that since he could not access the coupons on the website, he was denied equal access. Target settled a class-action lawsuit out of court related to website accessibility, with costs falling at over $11 million.

Not making your website accessible carries real risk, and the more users you alienate, the larger that risk. The current trend is toward more legislative sticks to enforce accessibility, not less. It pays to be ahead of the curve.

Positive brand association

You build your website for people, and people are diverse. They are diverse in their interests or dislikes, and they are diverse in their strengths and weaknesses. But everyone likes to feel valued. No one wants to feel forgotten.

People with disabilities often rely on the internet more than anyone else. Getting something delivered to their residence can be much more convenient than a trip to the store or restaurant.

As Steve Krug said, “Blind people with access to a computer can now read almost any newspaper or magazine on their own. Imagine that.”

That is a huge gain in quality of life, and the web has provided a lifeline to independence for many. You can be an important part of this lifeline. With just a little bit of work, your organization has the power to improve the everyday lives of a lot of people. And they will notice.

Opportunities like that don’t come along very often.

Putting people first, and including people living with disabilities, is always a good strategy. By giving users with diverse needs a great experience, you establish your organization as one who remembered to include them. Show loyalty to them, and they will return that loyalty. Word-of-mouth and network effects apply just as much to the disability community as they do to other communities. 

Improve the experience for everyone

When you do accessibility well, you improve the experience for everyone. Your users will never complain that your site is too easy to see, too well laid-out, or has too few annoying visual effects.

Pay attention to performance

Performance is an accessibility issue because not everyone has access to fast internet. In the US, the FCC estimates that around 3% of people do not have access to broadband, and still more do not subscribe even when it is offered.

If you ensure a good experience for people at lower internet speeds, you get a couple of things free.

  • You improve the experience for everyone using their phone. People can access your website from anywhere, and phones typically have slower speeds than more traditional connections. It also helps in more extreme situations. For example, if they have reached their data limit and their provider throttles their mobile speeds, having a more performant website means you can still offer them a decent experience.
  • You don’t hamper your SEO and marketing efforts. Google uses site speed and performance as a ranking factor so that improvements can increase your traffic and revenue.

Screen readers deserve some love

Transcripts and summaries of visual and audio content help include more people, but they also provide more content for search engine robots. What is good for screen readers is great for web crawlers. Google makes use of those extra signals for determining relevance.

Paying attention to how people use screen readers can also pay dividends for everyone else using your site.

Visitors skim content. This is true for every user, including those using screen readers. But unlike sighted readers, they can’t see a word in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, and when they skim, they will often listen to just the first few words of a heading before skipping to the next.

Put your most important keywords as close as possible to the beginning of a sentence, heading, or section while still making sense. Screen reader users can get a better gist of what is going on. Content organized this way also helps visual scanners find what they are looking for faster.

Do the right thing

You get many benefits for building accessibility into your project, and each benefit can lead to positive changes in your bottom line. There is a clear business case to be made. No one wants to set up barriers for potential customers. It’s not always easy, especially in the madcap world of tight deadlines and restricted budgets, but its always the right thing to do.

And that might be the most significant benefit of all: knowing that you are doing the right thing.

For a more detailed overview of web accessibility, check out our white paper about how inclusivity protects your business.

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Matt Robison

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Matt has been working with Drupal since 2008. He loves spending his time reading, writing, playing with his three kids, and eating lots of ice cream.