For web designers and developers, web accessibility is the simple act of making sites and apps available to everyone, including those with disabilities.
Making websites and web applications accessible to everyone increases the number of possible visitors, users, or customers the site or app can attract; it may provide significant financial benefits; and accessibility is the proper thing to do legally and morally.
Reason No. 1: Web Accessibility Increases Your Audience, Customer Base
Business managers and marketers use the term “total available market” or “total addressable market” (TAM) to describe the business opportunity associated with some action, product, or service. In general, projects with a larger TAM represent a larger opportunity.
If more people are interested in a product, it is possible to sell more of that product.
While this is a significant simplification of TAM and how TAM is used to make business decisions, it should help explain one of the most pragmatic reasons to make websites and web applications accessible. If more folks can access a site, that site has a larger opportunity and a greater chance for success.
What’s more, the techniques that make a site or app accessible to people with disabilities may also attract other users too. According to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), web accessibility also helps mobile users, older users, users with low-bandwidth connections, and with optimizing site content for search engines to index.
Reason No. 2: Web Accessibility May Provide Significant Financial Benefits
The most obvious financial benefit to building accessible websites and web apps stems from the increased market, as mentioned above. More customers, clients, students, readers, and subscribers often equate to more sales, services provided, registrations, ads viewed, and content consumed.
There are also several case studies conducted over the past decade that have shown a correlation between web accessibility and a company’s bottom line.
A 2009 example comes from Japan’s Mitsukoshi, Ltd., a brick-and-click retailer. The company, which has been in continuous operation since 1673, enjoyed a 45-percent increase in online sales in the year following a web accessibility implementation. It is likely that e-commerce growth accounted for some of the increased sales, but Mitsukoshi attributes a significant portion of the improvement to web accessibility.
In a 2004 case study cited on the WAI’s site, UK-based Tesco reported a ￡13 million GBP annual increase in sales after making its online site and some other services accessible.
It would seem that in some industries, web accessibility is a competitive advantage that may lead to increased interactions, sales, and revenue.
Web accessibility may also provide financial benefits in the form of cost savings. Some companies have reported noticeable cost savings in the form of lower maintenance costs, a reduced requirement to provide web alternatives, and in avoiding costly legal fees and fines.
Reason No. 3: Web Accessibility is the Proper Thing to do Legally and Morally
If the aforementioned benefits of making websites and web applications accessible to people with disabilities are not sufficient to make the point, consider that in some nations web accessibility may actually be a legal requirement.
“For those with disabilities, an inaccessible website puts them at a great disadvantage and further perpetuates a feeling of dependence and reliance on others,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz in reference to a March 6, 2014 consent decree with subsidiaries of H&R Block Inc. to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “With thoughtful and proper web design, businesses and organizations can have a great impact on the daily lives of people with disabilities who, like everyone else, seek to enjoy the benefits of technology.”
In addition to making its website and mobile applications accessible in the near future, H&R Block had to pay $145,000 USD in restitution and penalties.
In 2008, Target Corp., which operates physical and online retail stores, had to pay $6 million USD in damages to settle a lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind, which had accused Target of not providing alt text with product images, requiring a mouse or similar device for checkout, including inaccessible location maps, and neglecting to identify headings and navigation on its e-commerce site.
Although not legally binding, the United Nations has also described web access as a basic human right in its Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. If one agrees with the U.N.’s position, providing web access may also be a moral issue.
Understand Your Users’ Limitations
Making an HTML-based website or web application accessible is, actually, not that hard, and is little different from the steps one might take to optimize a site for search engine bots or mobile devices.
The process begins with understanding how users who have a disability interact with a site or app. It can be helpful to think about disabilities in categories.
- Fine motor skill disabilities – These users may have difficulty using a mouse or similar pointing device, may require more time to interact, and may have difficulty selecting small elements on screen.
- Visual disabilities – Users with visual disabilities may be blind, have relatively low vision, or be colorblind so that unannotated images and graphics or even low-contrast sites create problems.
- Hearing disabilities – Deaf or hard-of-hearing users will have problems interacting with video and audio content, unless some form of transcription is available.
- Cognitive disabilities – These users may have difficulty remembering information or data, may be easily distracted, and may have learning disabilities that affect how well they read text.
- Seizures – Some users may be prone to photoepileptic seizures, so that flashing, strobing, and blinking graphics are a danger.
The W3C has a working draft that describes at great length the best practices for making a site or app accessible. This document, titled the “Techniques and Failures for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0,” should be a reference throughout a site or app development process.
The Case for Web Accessibility
As discussed above, there are at least three great reasons to make websites and web applications accessible to everyone, including increasing the TAM for a site or app, potentially boosting revenue or reducing costs, and doing the proper thing legally and morally.
As quoted on the WAI home page, “The power of the web is in its universality,” said Tim Berners-Lee, director of the W3C. “Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”