For the vast majority of public and private organizations, accessible design isn’t optional. Still, most websites have accessibility issues that impact the experiences of real-life users, and brands may spend billions of dollars responding to accessibility-related litigation.
Even so, legal compliance isn't the only concern: Every website has users with disabilities. If your development process fails to prioritize the experiences of those people, your brand could suffer.
By thinking about accessibility throughout your development cycle, you can save time, reduce costs, and improve key operating metrics. While incorporating an accessible mindset requires investment — every member of your team will need to understand the principles and goals — a user-first approach can have enormous advantages.
The best practices of web development follow the principles of accessibility
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the consensus standard for digital accessibility. The W3C is led by the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, and is the same organization that develops Web standards.
WCAG establishes four fundamental principles for accessibility, which overlap significantly with the best practices of web design.
Content should be:
As part of the development process, these principles are indispensable. The end goal is to create a product that operates predictably for all users, regardless of their abilities and the methods they use to access the content.
WCAG is organized into checkpoints that enable your team to build their understanding of how different users experience content. By focusing on the correct use of native elements, the guidelines provide developers with a straightforward process for implementing better practices and verifying results.
When your design culture focuses on real-life users, you’ll plan more effectively — and build accessible interfaces that work for every user.
Digital accessibility can make updates more manageable
According to a study presented at the American Society of Engineering Management, the impact of usability on the cost of quality (PDF), fixing a usability issue after a product release can consume 100 times the development resources as compared to fixing the issue before the product release. For developers, this isn’t surprising: Remediating “bad code” can be much more difficult than building content correctly.
A website or app update might fix a certain barrier while creating several new issues. For instance, improving a site’s confusing navigation structure might prevent certain pages from loading correctly or cause text to appear misaligned — and in order to resolve the problem, many developers would rather start over.
However, if the page’s design follows WCAG principles and checkpoints, developers simply need to implement the specifications in an efficient manner. Accessible design naturally results in cleaner code, which reduces the chances that you’ll need to rewrite large portions of your website.
Additionally, developers can move content into different formats without losing important information. Accessible websites contain accurate heading structures, clear semantic HTML elements, and well-written image alternative text; if you need to move your content to another platform, you may have more of what you need ready for republication.
For every brand, digital accessibility is a worthwhile investment
Given the advantages of accessible design, why do so many websites fail to meet basic accessibility standards?
Many leaders assume that accessibility is too expensive to integrate into existing workflows. A 2016 Forrester Research Economic Impact Study commissioned by Microsoft, 31% of respondents cited (PDF) “high costs" as the most significant barrier for providing accessibility technologies, followed by “lack of funding available" (identified as a major barrier by 26% of respondents).
However, that same study found that the costs of accessibility — while significant for some organizations — were greatly outweighed by the benefits, which included higher productivity, improved morale, better brand presence, and elimination of potential legal and compliance fees.
And when accessibility is fully integrated into the development cycle, the benefits become more substantial. By following the WCAG framework and working with an accessibility partner, your brand can embrace better practices and eliminate usability issues before they impact real-world users.
To get started, get a free, confidential WCAG Level A/AA conformance report or contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility to discuss your goals.