Web accessibility isn’t just about compliance
Let’s face it. For most business, ADA compliance is the #1 motivating factor in pursuing digital accessibility. This makes a lot of sense. The number of private web accessibility lawsuits filed under the ADA has doubled over the past 4 years. And we don’t know the true number of demand letters that end in settlements before ever reaching court.
Of course, reducing your legal risk under the ADA is a business decision of sorts. And we don’t shy away from talking about ADA compliance and how that should impact your organization’s design and technology choices. But we didn’t get into digital accessibility only to reduce companies’ legal risk. And we don’t think it’s the most compelling reason to prioritize digital accessibility. The business case for web accessibility is that you reach more customers.
The business case for web accessibility: serving the missing 20%
Websites that are inaccessible make it harder for customers with disabilities to use their sites. At any given moment, roughly 20% of the US population has a disability. It follows that improving web accessibility results in higher engagement and conversion rates. Which ultimately means more revenue for your business.
The Click-Away Pound (CAP) Report surveyed web users with disabilities about their experiences shopping online. It found that website accessibility had a dramatic effect on their spending habits.
- 71% of users that encounter access barriers will simply leave and find another site that is easier for them to use
- 86% of participants with disabilities claimed they would spend more if websites were more accessible
- 75% of participants were willing to pay more to purchase a product from an accessible website (rather than buy the same thing from an inaccessible website)
It’s common for businesses to invest in improving their website user experience by increasing page speeds or optimizing SEO. Many even run A/B testing to eke out slightly higher performing cart and checkout pages. Isn’t it worth it to further optimize your site’s accessibility to attract and serve 20% of the population?
How many of my customers have disabilities?
Many businesses are skeptical that any significant portion of their customers (or potential customers) have a disability. When they hear the word “disability”, they tend to think of blindness or deafness. And there definitely are blind and deaf people in the population whose needs are not well served by most websites. But there are a lot more users who run into barriers trying to use the web. For example, many users are also affected by:
- Color blindness
- Visual impairments
- Hardness of hearing
- Loss of fine motor control
Whether or not someone has a disability can also change over time. For example, you might temporarily have difficulty using a mouse while your wrist is broken or sprained. Or you might even find some colors temporarily hard to see on your phone in direct sunlight. And as we age, we are all likely to experience reduced vision, color perception, hearing, dexterity, or fine motor control. Keep in mind that the US is aging and there are a growing number of senior citizens relative to the rest of the population.
Now for some more statistics
You may still be thinking 20% sounds very high! Where did we get that number? 20% is an approximation but there are some good sources of data.
- For example, in the US Census American Community Survey, 12.1% of respondents had a disability.
- The Census’ Survey of Income and Program Participation shows 18.7%.
- The CDC estimates that 26% of adults in the US have a disability!
Does this apply to my business?
Obviously, the actual number of potential customers with disabilities will vary between businesses. Sites that serve an older than average market probably have a much higher percentage of users with disabilities. And some business markets have fewer.
But there are some data sources that can help. Our CAP survey from 2019 showed that users with disabilities were regularly shopping online in the following sectors:
- Home and garden products
- Fashion and clothing
- Books, music and software
- Computers, tablets and phones
- Travel services
We also know that the rate of online spending has surely grown since then especially as COVID has moved so much economic activity online. We are all far more dependent on e-commerce and web-based services to fulfill our everyday needs.
While B2B businesses were not covered by the survey, it is reasonable to assume that the number of users with disabilities is roughly in line with the overall population numbers. As the value of your product or offer grows, the greater the opportunity cost of not becoming accessible.
SEO and other benefits of accessibility
There is also evidence that more accessible sites tend to be more usable for everyone (including users without disabilities). For example, ensuring colors have sufficient contrast or building error notifications according to best practices in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can make a site easier for everyone to understand
There are also similarities in the ways that screen readers and search engine bots read a website. Content accessibility improvements like consistent navigation across the site, logical use of headings, proper use of semantic HTML elements, and providing informative alt text for images can also provide an SEO boost. In addition, Google already measures the accessibility of all web pages along with page speed and other Page Experience scores. It would not be surprising if this became an explicit ranking factor in the near future.
Opportunities (and risks) for agencies
Digital agencies have their own websites to worry about, but they are also responsible for their clients’ sites as well. As they design, build, and maintain these sites, agencies should consider how they can provide their clients with the sales and UX boosts associated with accessibility. And of course, it’s also in agencies’ interest to ensure that their clients are protected from liability under the ADA. Practice makes perfect, but it’s probably better to bring on expert help at first rather than wing it.
Accessibility is more affordable than you think
We’ve demonstrated that ignoring web accessibility excludes around 20% of the population from fully using your website. That can translate to a very significant Return on Investment (ROI). That said, we understand that marketing budgets are tight even if the business case is clear. But did you know that the federal government will provide a very generous tax credit of up to $5,000 for small and medium sized businesses to invest in accessibility?
Accessibility is not all or nothing
Compliance is a binary. You are either ADA compliant or not. That’s an important question. But for us, (temporarily) setting aside questions of compliance frees you up to focus more on improvement and growth. More accessible is better than less accessible. And even if you can’t get things close to perfect, you can still make a big difference for your users and your bottom line. (You’ll also dramatically decrease your legal risk even if you aren’t at full conformance.)