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4 Consequences of Ignoring Web Accessibility

Feb 20, 2023

In November 2022, Post.news, a social media platform positioned as a competitor to Twitter, announced in a blog post that they weren’t focused on accessibility. 

“We want to do it all,” founder Noam Bardin wrote, “but first, let’s get everyone in.” 

For people in the accessibility space, the announcement seemed frustrating and short-sighted, but not especially surprising. Organizations frequently think of accessibility as an afterthought — an add-on that would help products reach more users, but not a strict necessity. 

That isn’t the case. More than 1 billion people worldwide live with at least one disability, and ignoring those users isn’t great for business. It may also be illegal: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and many other non-discrimination laws require businesses to provide accessible digital content.

Of course, the vast majority of popular websites have accessibility issues that violate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standard for accessibility. Few businesses make a conscious decision to deliver poor experiences to users with disabilities — but ignoring those users has consequences. 

Below, we’ll look at what happens when a business fails to consider digital accessibility from the first stages of web development.

1. Your website may reach a much smaller audience

Obviously, if fewer people can use your website, fewer people will visit. Many organizations underestimate the potential effect: 1 in 4 U.S. adults live with some form of disability, and according to one analysis, those people control about 490 billion in disposable income

That’s an enormous market — and you certainly don’t want to send the message that you don’t care about those customers. 

But accessibility can also benefit your reach in other, less obvious ways: 

  • The best practices of search engine optimization (SEO) overlap with the best practices of digital accessibility. If your site isn’t accessible, you may receive less traffic from search engines.

  • Accessibility can also benefit your social media marketing strategy, increasing engagement across Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.

  • People with disabilities have friends, family, and colleagues that also care about accessibility. Those individuals may look for brands that showcase their commitment to inclusivity.

2. Your risk of a web accessibility lawsuit skyrockets

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has clarified its position on digital accessibility over the past several years, and in July 2022, the Department announced plans to incorporate WCAG 2.1 into Title II of the ADA, which applies to organizations that receive federal funding.

Private businesses aren’t exempt. Under the ADA’s Title III, private businesses must provide reasonable accommodations to customers with disabilities.

And with the number of web accessibility lawsuits rising each year, businesses that ignore accessibility are taking a risk. Responding to an ADA website demand letter can cost $25,000, even if the case is settled.

Related: Web Accessibility Lawsuits Dramatically Rose in 2021. Here’s Why.

3. The costs of accessibility remediation grow over time

At some point, you’ll need an accessible website — and tabling the work can be expensive.

As we’ve discussed in other articles, accessibility saves time in the development process, and the best practices of WCAG result in cleaner, simpler code and markup. 

But if you wait to make your content accessible, your accessibility debt grows. Barriers become ingrained in your website’s code, so fixing them becomes more difficult and time consuming. Simply put, the sooner you think about accessibility, the smaller your investment. 

Related: What Is “Accessibility Debt?”

4. All users may encounter site-breaking barriers

WCAG criteria are written to apply to all digital content, and while the goal of the guidelines is to improve experiences for users with disabilities, following the rules can benefit everyone. For example: 

  • WCAG requires alternative text (also called alt text) for important images. If your images don’t load, all users can read the alt text and understand the purpose of the missing content.

  • WCAG requires multimedia to have accurate captions. Many people prefer to watch videos without sound — regardless of whether they have hearing disabilities — and captions keep these users engaged.

  • WCAG advises creators to avoid using color alone to convey information. This benefits people with vision disabilities, but it also ensures that your website works well if people change their display settings.

  • WCAG requires content to “reflow,” which means that content fits the user’s viewport without requiring scrolling in two directions. This benefits people who use screen magnifiers, as well as people who browse your website on small screens.

Related: The Most Common Web Accessibility Issues to Avoid

Start developing your web accessibility strategy

Every business has the resources to create accessible content. WCAG provides the framework you need to get started — but before you start remediating issues, make sure you’re focusing on the experiences of real-world users.

When you think about how your decisions affect real people, you can make those decisions with confidence. Start by auditing your content and reviewing our Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility eBook

When you’re ready to take the next steps, we’re ready to help. Send us a message to connect with a subject matter expert.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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