Breaking News

Back in 2014, Jonathan Hassell, digital accessibility thought leader and author of the internationally-recognized ISO 30071-1 web accessibility standard wrote that for too many years businesses have viewed digital accessibility as a “ruinous obligation” associated with legal compliance, rather than a genuine business opportunity.

Sadly, seven years on, this narrow and negative way of thinking prevails despite the recent experience of a global pandemic that caused a sudden pivot to digital-only services almost overnight.

Consequently, according to the recently published WebAim Million report, 97.4% of one million homepages tested had detectable WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) failures.

Creating digitally accessible products often comes down to effective communication. Organizations need to be routinely auditing and testing their websites and apps alongside users with disabilities.

At the same time, those responsible for digital accessibility within an organization need to be able to convince stakeholders within leadership teams of the cost benefits to secure the necessary budget.

With so much misinformation on web accessibility around, particularly from providers of “plug and forget” automated solutions, who missell the dream that accessibility and compliance can be easily achieved with quick fix website overlays – clear guidance is required to help corporate leaders separate the facts from the fiction.

With this in mind, U.K. digital accessibility charity AbilityNet recently produced a PowerPoint presentation that those responsible for digital products within an organization can show to the leadership team to secure a budget for a sustainable accessibility strategy by outlining the myriad business wins.

The presentation is not just supported by solid industry research but complemented with insights on digital accessibility best-practice from the likes of Google and Microsoft.

Companies with accessible digital products make more money

The presentation opens with a simple notion that’s most likely to force CEOs to sit up and pay attention – web accessibility is great for the company’s bottom line.

According to Accenture’s “Getting to Equal: the Disability Inclusion Advantage”, the top 45 Accessibility Champions from Disability:IN’s Disability Equality Index enjoy 28 x higher revenue, 2 x higher net income and a 30-fold improved performance on economic profit margin than that of their competitors.

This is hardly surprising given that the so-called “Purple Pound” accounts for some £248 billion according to research from pan-disability charity Scope.

Back in 2016, figures taken from the Click-Away Pound survey revealed that some 4 million individuals abandoned retail websites due to encountering accessibility barriers, accounting for a revenue loss of £11.75 billion. By 2019, the figure had risen to £17.1 billion.

Financials aside, promoting inclusivity and social justice is great for a brand’s reputation and does not go unnoticed amongst consumers.

In research carried out by NielsenIQ in 2015, over 56% of respondents stated a willingness to pay more for products and services if they knew they were dealing with an organization with strong social values.

Additionally, 92% of consumers said they feel more favorable to brands that hire people with disabilities.

“The Googles, the Apples and the Microsoft’s are competing on accessibility. It is a business advantage to have a good story. It has a halo effect in terms of your brand,” Christopher Patnoe, Google’s Head of Accessibility Programs and Disability Inclusion told AbililityNet.

A changing landscape

Despite the positive advantages, it would be naive to entirely ignore the rapidly evolving international legal landscape when it comes to compliance with digital accessibility standards.

Across the EU, the European Accessibility Act is set to enforce standards on websites and apps from e-commerce to banking and transportation services over the next three years.

In the U.S., the picture is a little hazier but there are already moves afoot to push last year’s failed Online Accessibility Act through Congress.

Despite the absence of clear guidance and a consensus of the extent to which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to digital products,  high-profile lawsuits have already been filed against the likes of Nike (2017), Amazon (2018), Burger King (2018) and Domino’s Pizza (2019).

Getting it right from top to bottom

Embedding principles of digital accessibility is, of course, a complex business but there are several key areas organizations should focus on.

Leadership from the boardroom down is essential. This should incorporate a commitment to hiring more staff with disabilities across the organization and at the board level where possible.

As Hector Minto, a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft explained to AbilityNet in a recent blog post, “Having employees with disabilities telling you the hard truth about your product drives more impact inside the business because it’s not this other-ism.”

Certainly, organizations should consider the merits of appointing dedicated accessibility champions and executive-level sponsors reporting directly to the leadership team.

Organizations should seek to implement metrics for benchmarking progress on digital accessibility against realistic and manageable steps that are clearly defined and measurable. There exists on the market today a number of maturity models that can help with this.

Finally, due consideration must be paid to embedding digital accessibility across all processes and facets of a business to ensure consistency and sustain a cultural shift that will become self-driven in time.

On a technical level, this must span across prototyping, iteration and product testing but accessibility requirements should also be extended to business activities such as procurement and supply partner selection too.

Without this, accessibility wins will simply exist in isolated pockets of success and an opportunity to create a viral effect across the digital economy will be missed.