The most obvious benefit of web accessibility is that it helps people with disabilities enjoy your website’s content, products, and services. However, the advantages of web accessibility aren’t limited to their immediate impact for people with disabilities — and some of them may surprise you.
In this article, we’ll discuss 6 additional benefits of web accessibility for your organization, your employees, and your customers.
1. Avoiding discrimination and legal complaints
As the internet and other digital technologies become increasingly prevalent in daily life, it’s not hard to argue that web accessibility is a civil right for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that people with disabilities can enjoy equal access to public services and “places of public accommodation” such as restaurants, movie theaters, and schools.
While the ADA does not explicitly address the question of web accessibility yet, the legislation is broad enough that it is interpreted to extend into the digital sphere as well. In a number of legal cases, the U.S. Department of Justice has concluded that the lack of accessibility for websites may be a violation of the ADA.
The number of web accessibility lawsuits is growing rapidly. In 2018, there were 2,258 web accessibility lawsuits filed in the U.S., nearly tripling from the 814 lawsuits in 2017. A number of recent high-profile cases, such as a lawsuit against the website of the singer Beyoncé, have also increased visibility and awareness.
Businesses that want to avoid claims of discrimination and legal action should work to implement web accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). They can also obtain a Letter of Reasonable Accessibility testifying that their website has been audited and has made reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
2. Reaching a wider audience
Disabilities come in many different forms, including hearing disabilities, visual disabilities, motor disabilities, and cognitive disabilities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 4 U.S. adults is living with a disability.
Businesses and organizations should therefore ignore this segment of the population at their own peril. According to the Click-Away Pound survey, UK retailers lost an estimated £11.75 billion ($15.5 billion USD) in 2016 because people with disabilities were unable to purchase their products online.
Improving your website’s accessibility is simply good business sense. Although it’s not possible to design a website that’s accessible to everyone on the planet, a few common-sense modifications can go a long way toward helping people with disabilities use your site. What’s more, features such as transcripts and closed captions, support for mobile devices, and a clear, simple site design will be beneficial for all users, not simply those who require them due to a disability.
3. Building positive PR
In this era of digital activism, many consumers want to support companies that share their beliefs, ideals, and values. According to a recent survey by Accenture Strategy, 62 percent of consumers prefer to make purchases from a brand that is willing to take a stand on issues that matter. What’s more, 47 percent are willing to walk away if they are disappointed with a company’s words or actions, and 17 percent will not return.
Web accessibility is an important cause for people with disabilities, their loved ones, and disability rights advocates. By taking a stand on web accessibility, you’ll be building the foundation of a positive brand image for your organization. People with disabilities who have positive interactions with your business are more likely to recommend you to their family, friends, acquaintances, and social media connections.
One way to start generating positive PR is to write an accessibility statement for your website. This document states your commitment to web accessibility and describes the steps that you have taken to accommodate people with disabilities, such as complying with web accessibility frameworks like WCAG.
4. Improving SEO
Creating an accessible website does more than make your site more usable — it also makes your site more likely to be found by improving search engine optimization (SEO).
The goal of SEO is to drive more traffic to your content by improving your website’s ranking in search engines such as Google. While the exact details of how pages are ranked in Google are never fully-revealed, there are some SEO best practices that nearly all digital marketers can agree on.
In many cases, the goals of web accessibility and SEO are aligned. Building websites with cleaner interfaces and easier navigation helps people with disabilities, but it also improves your bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who leave your website after only one page visit).
For example, providing closed captions and transcripts for your content is a shared goal of web accessibility and SEO:
- In order to provide everyone, including people with disabilities, access to video content, supplying text equivalents of video and audio files is a requirement under web accessibility standards such as WCAG.
- Google and other search engines are primarily text-based, which means that they can’t search through the speech in your video and audio content. Closed captions and transcripts help with SEO because they provide text that can be discovered and indexed by Google and other search engines, helping users find the relevant information on your website.
To learn more about how SEO and web accessibility are closely related, check out our article Five Ways to Improve Your SEO with Web Accessibility.
5. Increasing usability
Just as web accessibility and SEO are linked, so too are web accessibility and usability.
The goal of accessibility is to make products, services, and environments more usable by people with disabilities. In this light, accessibility can be seen as a sub-case or overlapping concept of usability, which aims to improve a product or service’s ease of use and user experience.
For example, web accessibility standards such as WCAG require websites to be entirely usable and navigable with only the keyboard (i.e. without the use of a mouse). Of course, this benefits people who may have challenges operating a standard computer mouse.
However, making your website navigable with a keyboard also benefits your broader user base. Fulfilling this requirement implies that the navigational elements of your website are well-organized in a strict hierarchy, which will help all users more-easily locate the content they need.
Other web accessibility recommendations also improve the general usability of your site. For example, alternative text for images and objects on your website can help people with slow internet connections understand the purpose of the content before it loads. Glossaries with definitions of acronyms, rare words, and technical terms are useful for some people with cognitive disabilities, some people who speak English as a second language, and everyone at different times.
6. Writing higher-quality code
As one final advantage for your developers and designers, websites that are created with accessibility in mind tend to have a higher-quality code base. For example, accessibility testing tools such as the a11y® testing platform can also identify errors that create general problems with usability.
Writing cleaner code has a variety of benefits for your website, including better user interfaces, fewer bugs, and faster loading times (which will also improve your SEO ranking as a result). In this light, accessibility should be seen as an investment in your code base and the future of your business.
The idea that web accessibility only benefits people with disabilities is one of the most common web accessibility myths. As we’ve discussed in this article, the benefits of web accessibility include expanding your customer base, polishing your brand image, increasing your search engine rankings, and making general improvements to usability.
All of these are major advantages for your organization — so how do you get started? The Bureau of Internet Accessibility blog is an excellent resource for a variety of topics in web accessibility. If you’re ready to launch a full accessibility initiative or have questions, you can reach out to our team of experts for a free 30-minute consultation about your next steps.