Website accessibility is a best practice requiring the use of inclusive website design to facilitate use by people with disabilities, including visual, hearing, motor skills, neurological, or cognitive impairment. When this practice is followed formally and consistently, the experience is improved for people with disabilities, who can better understand, navigate, and interact with an organization’s websites.
But here is a fact that most companies do not comprehend. The benefits of website accessibility include a number of benefits to the organization itself. For example, people with disabilities are a massive, worldwide market. The global population of these individuals is greater than one billion, the largest minority group. When friends and family are factored in, this group represents more than $8 trillion in discretionary spending.
Moreover, the benefits of website accessibility programs go beyond those realized by people with disabilities. Accessible websites are also more intuitive and usable by those without disabilities. For example, all users benefit from sites that provide simple, top-down navigation or use color contrast that makes text more readable. Another plus: search engine optimization scores go up for sites that are more accessible. In other words, optimizing an organization’s website for people with disabilities makes it more useful and effective generally.
On the negative side, the costs of non-compliance are going to go up. As discussed in our full report, Website Accessibility Adoption and Best Practices, inaccessible systems puts an organization at risk for litigation under the Americans with Disability Act, for example. Some of these suits are high-profile: In 2019, Maryann Murad and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) filed an ADA lawsuit against Amazon.com for employment discrimination. Another suit, Bartleson v. Miami-Dade County Public Schools, concerned a blind employee who had worked for the school district for 27 years. The employee sued the school district in part because she was unable to use the school system’s websites and web forms, which impeded her ability to do her job. The school district ended up paying more than $250,000 and committed to making the tools accessible over the next four years
Nevertheless, according to our research, most companies are still not taking website accessibility seriously. Fewer than half (46%) of organizations attempt to make their websites accessible at any level of practice maturity.
“If benefits from website accessibility to the organization itself are not enough of an incentive, perhaps the stick of non-compliance will make the point,” said Tom Dunlap, director of research for Computer Economics, a service of Avasant Research, based in Los Angeles. “It’s not just about doing the right thing. It’s about doing what’s in the organization’s own best interest, both positively and negatively.”
Website accessibility is essential for organizations that want to create the most inclusive experiences online—experiences that do not exclude anyone from finding, buying, using their products and services. In addition, and in many cases, website accessibility is mandated by multiple industry standards and governmental regulations, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the US and the Web and Mobile Accessibility Directive in the European Union.
Website accessibility is part of a larger approach that overlaps with other best practices and reaps benefits beyond serving people with disabilities. According to the W3C’s Website Accessibility Initiative, “accessibility overlaps with other best practices such as mobile web design, device independence, multi-modal interaction, usability, design for older users, and search engine optimization (SEO). … [A]ccessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits.”
One clarification is in order. The focus of our full report is website accessibility only. It does not address accessibility of enterprise applications that are used by employees internally. This does not mean that the latter is not important—in fact, it is essential as part of providing an inclusive workplace. But we limited the scope of our survey to websites in order to get a sense for whether organizations are making progress in this early step in enabling accessibility. If an organization’s websites are not accessible, then it is unlikely that its internal systems are.
In our full report, we incorporate the views from four experts in this field. We also study the adoption and practice levels for website accessibility and examine those by organization size and sector. We conclude with practical recommendations for getting started with website accessibility.
Thanks to our reviewers who contributed substantially to the full report. These include Thomas Otter, found of Otter Advisory; Laurie A. Henneborn, managing director for Accenture Research; Jeff Nolan, global marketing director at Coherent Inc., and Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica.