Accessibility – Essential for users, beneficial for business

While all projects should take accessibility principles to heart, some might have specific legal requirements – such as projects for ministries and federal authorities. 

Beyond legal compliance, there are countless benefits to integrating accessibility early on in the web development process and shouldn’t be the responsibility solely of the agency. Even if the user interface and the source code have been optimally implemented for accessibility, the responsibility for preparing the content for accessibility and correctly entering it into the system still remains with the client. 

The potential that a fully implemented accessible website offers has rarely been fully utilised. In this article I will be showcasing examples of how accessibility can affect a project, we will also be looking at the topic in the context of a business case.

Image of Statistics on Global Disabilities Market. The market for people with disabilities is large and growing as the global population ages. At least one billion people - 15% of the world’s population - have a recognised disability. Globally, the extended market is estimated at 2.3 billion people who control and incremental $6.9 trillion in annual disposable income.

What are barriers in web accessibility and why does everyone benefit from it? 

When talking about web accessibility, most people think it simply means optimising a website for people with disabilities, but that’s only half the story. Let's look at one of many possible limitations, for example: According to the WHO 2019 [1], at least 2.2 billion people worldwide are visually impaired or blind. Age-related visual impairment affects almost everyone over a certain age. But it is not only physical limitations that can make access to information and services difficult, there are environmental considerations as well. Restrictions can also include a noisy restaurant, blinding sunshine, a very small dispenser, or the level of an individual’s experience and education or ability to speak a certain language.

On the Web, anything that restricts access to Web content is a barrier to accessibility. There are five categories of disabilities [2] that affect access to the Web: 

Auditory  |  Cognitive  |  Visual  |  Motor  |  Speech 

Understanding the limitations from each category helps to define requirements for improved accessibility. These requirements allow us to identify problems that will benefit other users as well. For example, if you are kneading pizza dough, you could have flour on your hands when the doorbell rings. Or you might find yourself with a crying child in your arms while trying to get an appointment with the paediatrician via their website.

If we add such everyday restrictions to those with permanent disabilities, we can assume that there are an almost immeasurable number of people for whom access to digital information is in some way difficult or even impossible.

In its Inclusive Toolkit Guideline [3], Microsoft has created a very informative people guide that makes it easier to understand that all people may be subject to a restriction depending on the situation or at certain times.

Image overview of people with disabilities in different situations, namely touch, hear, see and speak.© Microsoft 2016 Licensed under Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC BY-NC-ND)

With increasing age, we all need a little more accessibility in our lives. Even in the healthiest of us, at some point, some of our abilities will diminish including our sight, hearing, agility and so on. 

In order to make life easier for people with disabilities, there are many effective and sometimes very simple ways to make a website more accessible. And every measure taken to make a digital medium more accessible to people with disabilities automatically makes it accessible to everyone.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and Examples

Instead of explaining what concrete measures can be taken to make a website accessible, I would like to point out the well-known standards for the barrier-free design of Internet offerings. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published the globally recognized Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) [4].

Please note that the countries in whose jurisdiction you publish websites may have their own legal regulations on how content must be made available on the web. Although these are based largely on the WCAGs, details may vary.

Here are a few examples:

  • Swiss – Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz – BehiG (Disability Equality Act)
  • Germany – Barrierefreie-Informationstechnik-Verordnung – BITV (Barrier-free Information Technology Ordinance) 
  • UK – Equality Act of 2010
  • United States – Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The W3C provides a list of government laws and policies regarding web accessibility [5] for many countries.

In order to address specific limitations, very different types of action should be taken. For example:

  • Blind users must have websites that are interpretable by programs that read text aloud and describe visual images.
  • Visually impaired users need websites with adjustable font sizes and sharply contrasting colours.
  • Users who are deaf, hard of hearing, or otherwise unable to hear, audio content should be subtitled with text. Video in sign language can help make audio content more accessible.

How accessibility affects your business

Needless to say, money and work power are necessary to make a web offer "accessible".
For this reason, a business case becomes a helpful tool for project planning, it can also help to convince stakeholders.

Common resistance to implementing accessibility is that ROI (Return on Investment) is too difficult to measure. However, ROI is not the only way to measure the benefits of accessibility for an organization. A useful business case should also include the costs and risk of inactivity. 

In addition, research findings and concrete examples can inspire confidence among executives and decision-makers ultimately demonstrating that continued investment in accessibility is good for business. 

I’ve outlined a few examples of where accessibility has an impact on a business:

Access to a larger market 
Currently, about 13% of all people worldwide live with a disability. The total population of people with disabilities is therefore very high, at around 1 billion, and their share of disposable income corresponds to their population size [6]. From an economic point of view, this has huge potential because consumers who are not able to use your website or app effectively will go elsewhere. 

Increase brand equity
Most consumers today make value-based decisions; when you add inclusiveness to your brand values, you no longer exclude any part of the population. The newly gained users could influence the purchasing decisions of people from their environment to your advantage.

Reduction of potential legal risks 
Websites without accessibility can be legally vulnerable. Carefully check the legal requirements in your region regarding the implementation of accessibility. Between 2017 and 2018, eAccessibility claims have skyrocketed by 181% [7], forcing thousands of businesses to react in very expensive and inefficient ways to achieve compliance with eAccessibility.

Reducing operational costs 
On average, visually-impaired users call a company's customer service department once a week [8] to resolve website accessibility issues. When accessibility issues occur in the digital channel, they result in more calls, more traffic and more workflow to support or call centres.

Why accessibility is good for business

The mentioned examples show rather soft factors and are difficult to measure economically. An increased brand value, for example, will only indirectly fill your coffers. However, it is possible to evaluate your efforts to achieve good accessibility on a financial basis. For this purpose, I would like to calculate the economic potential of improved accessibility in the form of revenue, based on an individual example. 

Let us take a look at the underlying assumptions:

  • Let's assume we operate an e-commerce website with 25,000 visitors per month.
  • Of these, 2,500 people (10%) add an item to their shopping cart.
  • Of these 2,500, 750 (30%) start the checkout process. 
  • Due to accessibility problems, however, only 150 people complete the checkout. We, therefore, have an 80% abandonment rate.

Let's say our example website generates an average of $100 per checkout. 
The turnover is thus $15,000 per month or $180,000 per year.

Now let's look at one of the factors influencing the turnover: 

We know that 15% of the population has a disability. This means that out of our 25,000 visitors, about 3,750 of them may have difficulty using the site. 

It would be unrealistic to claim that we can turn all the people in this group into buyers, but if we could achieve only a slight reduction of 10% in the drop-out rate by improving accessibility, this would bring a considerable return.

Based on our example, the calculation would look like this:

  • The site still gets 25,000 hits a month.
  • 2,500 people (10%) place an item in the shopping cart.
  • Of these 2,500, 750 (30%) start the checkout process.
  • Through our activities for improved accessibility, 225 of our visitors have now completed the checkout (so we have reduced the abandonment rate to 70%).

As a result, the website now brings in a total of $22,500 per month or $270,000 per year.

Our efforts have clearly paid off. We were able to increase the monthly income by $7,500. This is an increase of $90,000 per year! A considerable sum worth investing in improved accessibility!

Image of an example cost estimate for making accessibility improvements, as mentioned above.

Accessibility is an Opportunity

The Internet is an integral part of modern everyday life. Many intelligent and innovative companies have now understood how to integrate accessible design into their development and procurement processes in order to create equal access for all people. The legal risks of disregarding accessibility are considerable because depending on the country where a website is operated, local regulations must be taken into account. 

Companies who integrate accessibility are more likely to be innovative and inclusive. They tend to reach more people with a positive brand message, one that meets emerging global regulatory requirements.

The possibilities offered by an accessibility strategy are immense. In competition, it is not only economic factors alone that count, but values also make the difference for many purchasing decision-makers.

More than a billion people with disabilities are eager to network with you as customers, clients, partners or employees. Increased profitability is a good reason to improve accessibility. Better access leads to a lower drop-out rate and the possibility of more sales. Pursuing an inclusive communication strategy can support this in the long term and also improves the reputation of your company or brand. 

There are 7.8 billion people on earth. Make it your goal that your products and communication offerings are physically, cognitively and emotionally appropriate for each of them.

Need help to make sure your web offerings are accessible to all? Get in touch with us today! 

[1] Blindness and vision impairment WHO; 2019
[2] Building Web Accessibility, Part 1: Barriers, Guidelines, and Standards Bruno Marcelino;  May 13, 2020
[3] Inclusive Design Microsoft; 2016
[4] Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview WCAG; 12 August 2020. First published July 2005
[5] Web Accessibility Laws & Policies W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI); 21 March 2018
[6] Richard Branson Supports People With Disabilities -- Here Are Six Ways You Can Do It, Too Paolo Gaudiano and Ellen Hunt; Oct 31, 2016
[7] 2018 Ada Web Accessibility Lawsuit Recap Report [Blog] Jason Taylor; December 26, 2018
[8] Nucleus Research Note: The Internet is Unavailable Rebecca Wettemann & Trevor White; July 2019

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