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3 Times Accessibility and Disability Stats Matter (and 3 Times They Don't)

Jan 18, 2020

One of the most fascinating things about statistics and facts in general is that people can use the exact same information to tell very different stories. When it comes to opportunity and requirements surrounding digital accessibility, this is no different.

When the number of people with disabilities is used to show obligation and opportunity, it matters

Over a billion people worldwide have a disability and according to the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 U.S. adults has a disability. That number grows to a full 40% of people age 65 and older, which becomes maybe more relevant when considering that people older than 65 will outnumber children by 2030 for the first time in the country's history.

There are endless ways of breaking these large stats down, and sometimes that will be done by disability type, age, location, device preference and access, and the list goes on. Any configuration of these stats has a glaring common factor: opportunity.

The overwhelming majority of websites still are not accessible, and this means unprecedented business opportunity for those who take accessibility seriously and the opportunity to greatly improve user experience for customers and prospects, as well as a full list of other unexpected benefits.

Read: Disability Statistics in the United States

But when the number of people with disabilities is used to dismiss responsibility, it doesn't matter

While most people are likely to experience situations, even temporary ones, that cause them to be temporarily disabled in some way or to directly benefit from accessibility best practices, at any given time most people don't have a disability. In practice, this sometimes presents itself with people asking, "How many of our customers have disabilities and is accessibility something we really need to do?"

Asking the question in itself may be fair, but if the answer is one that is used to dismiss the responsibility of creating accessible experiences, there are at least two major risks that come with that:

  1. If the number of current customers with disabilities is believed to be small (not that there is likely to be and perhaps shouldn't be a reliable metric on that), this probably means many customers with disabilities can't or don't find it worth doing business with the company due to inaccessibility or failure to prioritize inclusion — not because the product or service is something people with disabilities for some reason just have no interest in purchasing.
  2. Disability rights, including the right to public accommodations, are civil rights and people are taking to the courts to defend those rights. It could be a costly misstep to try to use disability statistics in a way that dismisses the responsibility of providing equal access.

When customer feedback, including accessibility feedback, is used to make improvements, it matters

Like all data, the value of feedback largely depends on how it is used and applied. In today's business landscape, in which organizations are competing more and more on customer experience, striving to collect honest feedback in order to improve customer experience can be a key difference-maker.

Because of the regulatory and legal nature of accessibility compliance, organizations might view any feedback related to accessibility opportunities or shortcomings as inherently bad. Ignoring that feedback can certainly have negative consequences and carry risk, but the feedback itself can give an organization valuable insight into barriers its customers might be facing — and knowing gives the organization the chance to do something about it.

After all, it is the individual using the website who decides if it is accessible.

Read: Why You Need to Test Custom Use Cases for Accessibility

But when a company receives no accessibility complaints, it might not matter

On the other hand, it probably isn't the case that not being aware of customer complaints related to accessibility means there aren't any issues, so the lack of accessibility feedback data doesn't always matter.

For example, customers don't always know how to contact a company to provide feedback or file a complaint. In some cases, they might simply not think it's worth it. People are busy and providing feedback takes time, and after all, there's probably something they're trying to achieve in real-time.

Whatever the reason that customers haven't provided accessibility feedback or complaints, a website or app probably isn't accessible on its own.

Read: We Haven't Received Customer Complaints About Accessibility, So We Don't Have a Problem, Right?

When accessibility remediation metrics are used to show ongoing commitment to customers, it matters

Proper accessibility testing and tracking will include some form of reports and metrics to show what issues were found and how they were fixed, or how they will be fixed.

Building self-sufficiency and expertise, keeping accessibility experts engaged, and making efforts to introduce more people to accessibility and get buy-in go a long way in keeping accessibility top-of-mind and actively working to improve customer experience.

Like all worthwhile aspects of running a business, accessibility requires monitoring and maintenance. As new content is developed, as new issues are found, or simply as time passes, accessibility is an ongoing commitment.

But when remediation metrics are used to show completion, it doesn't matter

Unfortunately, there's a common misconception that accessibility is a one-time fix. Organizations who operate under that assumption or feel they can point to the moment when accessibility became "complete" or they achieved 100% accessibility compliance are subjecting themselves to risk because that isn't a goal that can be met.

Additionally, a person who is unable to do what they came to a website to do because of accessibility barriers isn't likely to care that a document somewhere says the site has no issues. So, if accessibility metrics are used to show that accessibility work is finished and doesn't need to be revisited, those metrics aren't likely to matter in practice.


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