The business case for digital accessibility

Doug Cunningham, CTO, Forrit, argues that the need for digital accessibility is an ethical obligation for technology providers.

An accessible entry sign on a wall.

In the UK, 40% of households have at least one person with accessibility needs. We can no longer overlook accessibility or view it as a ‘nice to have’.

This finding makes Global Accessibility Awareness Day – today – all the more crucial, lending weight to its aspiration that “every user deserves a first-rate digital experience”. This includes people of all abilities and technological know-how.

Globally, at least one billion people worldwide have a disability or impairment that impacts their digital experience. So we can no longer overlook accessibility or view it as a ‘nice to have’.

However, research by WebAIM has found that 98% of homepages have at least one accessibility error, showing there’s still a lot of work to do to solve this problem.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed guidelines on how to make web content more accessible to people with additional needs, whether that be relying on screen readers and speech- input software, alternative text for images, or ensuring all functionality is operable through a keyboard interface. Incorporating these guidelines from the start of your marketing campaign or content development, rather than going back and shoehorning them in, optimises resources and is a more efficient use of developers’ time.

While there is no legal requirement to ensure accessibility in the UK (aside from certain regulations for public bodies) beyond making “reasonable adjustments”, the business argument is clear: people will gravitate towards digital experiences that meet their needs. A 2019 report from Freeny Williams showed 69% of customers abandon websites that don’t meet their accessibility needs, and 86% will pay more for a product if it means using an accessible website rather than one that’s more difficult to use.

The Freeny Williams report estimated the loss of online business to UK retailers who don’t meet accessibility needs was £17.1 billion per year. Given the reliance on online shopping over the past year, this number is likely to have increased. That’s a huge amount of income being lost for not being inclusive.

But it isn’t just people with accessibility concerns who benefit from the W3C guidelines. People who are less tech-savvy prefer websites that are more predictable (Guideline 3.2). For example, those who rely on mobile phones to access the internet or who live in rural areas and have less bandwidth need to be able to see content in different ways without losing information (Guideline 1.3).

There’s also the ethical angle, something which is particularly important to Millennials and Generation Z – two age groups that form the biggest proportion of the global consumer base. These consumers increasingly want to spend money with brands that are focusing on doing things ‘right’, or embracing their environmental and social responsibilities. Inclusivity and accessibility for all is a key part of this. As such, it is important to feed this into your marketing content strategies.

In 1997, Tim Berners-Lee said “the power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect”. It was a prescient statement, especially given the events of the past year. With so many people self-isolating, even those who may have previously ​avoided technology – whether due to accessibility needs or not – were relying on it to access the outside world.

The onus has always been on businesses to meet their customers wants and needs. It’s clear now that this must also include their accessibility needs, in terms of how customers interact with the business itself. There’s no downside to digital inclusivity, but to not do so risks redirecting customers towards competitors.

  • Forrit is a next generation enterprise content management system that recently shifted its direction to become more product-focussed, whereby customers can use the CMS platform regardless of technical skills.

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