By now, the need to make digital experiences accessible to everyone has become one of the main tenets of the digital industry - if not before, then definitely in light of recent accessibility cases (e.g. Domino’s).
Truth be told, there are a lot of reasons why everyone should prioritize accessibility, if possible from the very start of a project, as it is typically more costly (and less effective!) to make accessibility fixes later on than following accessibility guidelines from the get-go.
This post, however, will not focus on how to make your sites and applications accessible, or on different types of disabilities and the corresponding measures. Instead, it will present the most important reasons why accessibility is good for business. Let’s get started.
If you work in digital, you’ve no doubt at least heard of the recent Domino’s accessibility case. While physical accessibility has been a legal need for U.S. businesses since 1990, the ubiquity of digital has necessitated that the same laws be applied to digital accessibility as well.
It was, then, the just mentioned case of Domino’s in October of last year which served as the turning point, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Guillermo Robles and declaring that any digital platform which is tied to a physical location providing goods or services should also comply with accessibility standards.
This means that digital accessibility is now a much less ambiguous field, and there can be serious legal repercussions for businesses that aren’t accessibility-compliant. Therefore, you should strive for at least the basic level of compliance if you want to avoid potential risks of legal action.
Besides the legal ramifications, the new accessibility ruling can also greatly affect the reputation of a business. Just think about it: in the eyes of quite a lot of people, Domino’s will likely forever be remembered as the brand that argued against the basic rights of a blind man - and lost.
Luckily, just as bad accessibility practices damage your reputation, good ones can actually aid it. If you make an effort to go above and beyond to truly serve all of your customers and users, it will make your brand stand out not just in the eyes of the users that directly benefit from accessibility, but also those that most value social impact.
Conveniently, the two audiences that hold a brand’s commitment to doing things right in the highest esteem are exactly the ones that form the biggest proportion of the global consumer base: Millennials and Generation Z.
As these customers are the ones that are most likely to abandon a brand due to exposed bad practices, delivering subpar experiences potentially means losing out on a significant percentage of customers.
Closely tied to the previous two reasons, inclusivity is another important factor to the importance of digital accessibility. The beauty and power of the internet lie in the fact that it is - supposedly - for everyone; every user should be able to have access to websites and web applications.
Just imagine how you’d feel if you weren’t able to do something on the internet, something that likely most of your peers would have no problem doing, simply due to something outside your control which probably also poses certain challenges in other aspects of your life, not just the digital.
In this case, you’d definitely feel welcome and pleased that somebody has made the effort to give you the best possible experience, even if it meant working a little longer or planning a little more thoroughly.
So, in short: we have to internalize the understanding of the web being for everyone, and then design and develop our digital experiences with this always top of mind. Only then can we make sure that we’re really including all of our users.
4. User Experience
Ultimately, accessibility is about user experience. Where UX is only focused on a user for whom it is assumed not to have any disability, accessibility doesn’t make any such assumptions. It treats all users equally, and understands that features which are intended for users with disabilities actually improve the overall user experience.
And it’s not only that the best user experience is accessible - accessibility is in fact a prerequisite for calling something a user experience. By not making sites and apps accessible, you automatically exclude a large portion of your users by preventing them from having a comparable experience to users without any disability.
There’s an interesting acronym for user experiences that only focus on some users while excluding others: SUX (Some User Experience) - and that’s exactly what it does. It sucks not to be included.
You probably know that SEO has come a long way from the shady tactics from olden days, e.g. keyword stuffing and the like. Algorithms are constantly being tweaked, and even the SEO experts need to make a bit of an effort to keep up.
As Google wants to deliver only the best search results to its users, search engine crawlers are also interested in the user experience of your website and rank it according to its usability. And, as we just covered under section 4, you can’t have true user experience without accessibility.
Or, to put it another way: accessibility will boost your UX, which will boost your SEO efforts, which will boost your ranking, which will improve your overall brand. This indicates a direct positive correlation between commitment to accessibility and SERP ranking.
6. Coding standards
Another benefit of implementing accessibility from the get-go is the fact that it necessitates a strict adherence to proper coding standards. The code thus produced is overall cleaner and more performant, its being accessible is just additional value.
Using semantic HTML, structuring headings correctly, making sure that elements are focusable - these are all seemingly minor things which hence often slip under the radar, but are nevertheless essential to accessibility.
7. It’s just the right thing to do!
The previous 6 reasons all amount to one main one: building sites and apps that are accessible is just the right thing to do! Just like you would hold open the door for your elderly neighbor who has trouble walking, you’d want to extend that same courtesy to everyone who wishes to enter your digital environment.
And this doesn’t even have to be for ethical/moral reasons - even if business outcomes are your number one priority, you’d naturally want as many users and/or customers as possible. Preventing people from purchasing your products or using your services would be the near equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.
This blog post has attempted to show the importance of accessibility and the business value of making it an integral part of design and development, rather than just a necessary but cumbersome afterthought.
As we have pointed out, there are many aspects in which prioritizing accessibility benefits a business, ranging from legal obligation to basic compassion for other human beings. With a higher and higher focus placed on accessibility, it’s good to also be aware of the value it brings in addition to knowing the efforts and skills required to implement it.
For those who want to learn more about accessibility standards, types of disabilities and some basic guidelines, we're also sharing the slides from a recent AgileTalk given by two of our accessibility-focused developers.
If you have more complicated accessibility issues you need resolved, contact us and we can craft an accessibility-focused team of developers that will help you take care of these issues.