Many of us have a natural instinct to assume that big companies or popular libraries and frameworks are checking all of the boxes when it comes to accessibility. But it’s a dangerous assumption to make. I regularly hear clients justify UX patterns or decisions because they’ve seen them used by a reputable technology company.
Early on in any UX review with a client, I always like to pick one or two large reputable internet giants and demonstrate a quick scan on an automated accessibility scan tool. It’s a great way to provide some real-life examples of how inaccessibility impacts user experience. But it also helps to reset expectations and allow clients to consider the accessibility of a given interface on its own terms without appeals to authority.
Why aren’t big companies consistently reliable on accessibility?
It’s true that bigger companies should have greater accessibility capabilities. In no particular order, they have larger budgets, access to the most talented and experienced digital teams, and more sophisticated processes and quality assurance. They are also more likely to have teams dedicated to legal compliance and a lower tolerance for risk.
To be clear, there are plenty of large companies that are doing a pretty good job on accessibility. Our goal here isn’t to point fingers. But they definitely perform much worse than you’d expect by reputation.
For the most part, I don’t think big companies are that different from smaller companies in this respect. Accessibility isn’t a priority. It’s not part of requirements so it doesn’t get planned into UX, design or development from the start. There aren’t testing processes and accessibility bugs are not considered blockers for launch. Teams don’t know that they need to incorporate accessibility. They simply don’t know enough and make incorrect choices. Or they hire agencies that suffer from the same gaps.
Who owns accessibility?
The standard answer is that accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. If accessibility isn’t incorporated at each stage, it becomes a lot harder to ensure any level of conformance after the fact. But if accessibility is everyone’s responsibility, then it’s also no one in particular’s responsibility.
I recently saw a tweet thread by Patrick McKenzie that crystallized my intuitions around why so many companies do accessibility so poorly.
There’s an element of business-as-usual complacency and inertia. That same inertia leads people to assume that if [insert big company here] is doing it, it must reflect best practices.
Phrasing the question more bluntly
McKenzie phrases these common conversion obstacles as “forms hating money”. But you could just as easily say, “your website hates people with disabilities. Perhaps that should be fixed.”
But the truth is that McKenzie’s formulation largely applies to accessibility features (and obstacles). Some accessibility features are already commonplace because they make it easier and quicker for everyone to fill out forms. Autocomplete is a great example of this.
The same goes for McKenzie’s example of payment forms requiring you to manually enter whether you use Visa or Mastercard even though the form can figure this out automatically. Reducing the number of required inputs is also a win for accessibility.
Similarly, the recently published WCAG 2.2 guidelines mandates that forms not require users to manually re-enter information in multiple places on a form. Many e-commerce checkouts have optimized their processes by allowing you to enter an address once and use it for both shipping and billing.
Finding more opportunity
But there are plenty of other accessibility issues that remain common. For any company with a decently sized funnel, these sorts of optimizations should pencil out very quickly. There are companies that already invest heavily in A/B testing and other CRO programs in order to eke out a single digit percentage lift in sales or conversions.
Imagine the ROI of making your checkout more usable for 1% of visitors. Now increase that to 10 or 20%.
We could also phrase it more bluntly.
Does your website hate money? Perhaps that should be fixed.