Imagine that you’re passing by a restaurant on a busy street. The restaurant has an excellent atmosphere, and the menu looks fantastic — but you see a large sign in the window that reads, “No Deaf people allowed.” Would you go in?
In 2022, this might seem like a ridiculous hypothetical. After all, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits U.S. businesses from discriminating against people on the basis of disability, and a sign proclaiming an intent to discriminate would get immediate attention from attorneys.
And even without the threat of litigation, few businesses would promote their prejudice. Whether or not you have disabilities, you probably don’t want to be seen eating at an establishment that bans a particular group of people.
If a restaurant intentionally discriminated against the Deaf — or people with vision disabilities, cognitive differences, or any other condition — they wouldn’t last long. But despite the efforts of accessibility advocates, many websites send a similar message to users with disabilities.
Related: How Do I Make My Website Accessible?
Website accessibility barriers can be as discriminatory as physical barriers
While we’re not aware of any websites with a “no Deaf people allowed" icon on their front page, we’ve seen many high-profile brands make key mistakes that limit their audiences:
- Failing to provide alternative text for images, which impacts people with vision disabilities.
- Including ”keyboard traps” on web forms, which can be frustrating for people who use a keyboard alone to navigate the web.
- Using low-contrast text, which can be difficult for people with color vision deficiency (CVD) and other conditions.
- Publishing videos without captions or transcripts, which impacts people who have hearing disabilities.
These practices reflect poorly on businesses. When an individual with disabilities can’t use your website, they’ll probably take their money elsewhere — and they may tell their family and friends about the experience.
And lost revenue isn’t the only consideration: According to the Department of Justice, websites are considered places of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA. Setting aside the costs of extensive litigation, a website accessibility lawsuit can have a profoundly negative impact on your brand.
For businesses, ignoring inclusivity can have serious consequences
Accessible design sends a different message: Your brand is committed to including everyone in the conversation. That message can be a powerful tool for building your business:
- According to a 2020 survey, 64% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product if they believe that the brand values diversity and inclusion.
- In a 2021 McKinsey survey, two out of three Americans said that their social values affect their purchasing decisions.
- In a study performed by Accenture (PDF), on average, “disability inclusion champions" that excelled in key areas of inclusivity reported 28% higher revenue and 30% higher economic profit margins than their less inclusive competitors.
Put simply, consumers care about your business’s values. When you ignore a sizable segment of your audience, you’re saying that you don’t care about those people — but when you embrace accessibility, you send a strong message to all customers.
Digital accessibility begins with an inclusive mindset
Businesses don’t build inaccessible websites intentionally. Accessibility barriers occur when developers, designers, and content creators focus on the experiences of the “ideal" user: A person who uses a mouse and keyboard and has no disabilities that affect their browsing preferences.
That approach ignores the reality of the modern internet. 26% of U.S. adults have some type of disability, and many others have temporary or situational disabilities.
Ultimately, if your website has significant traffic, you have customers with disabilities — and if you don’t have customers with disabilities, you’re doing something wrong.
The solution is to think about real-life users from the first stages of development. If your entire team is dedicated to inclusivity, you’ll create better digital products, and by promoting your commitment to accessible design, you’ll demonstrate leadership by example.
Create a roadmap for accessibility compliance
To take the first step, evaluate your content against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is the international standard for accessibility, and automated tools (such as the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free website analysis) can provide an overview of your current level of conformance.
Once you’ve identified accessibility barriers, take action:
- Set up a remediation strategy. For guidance, read: Web Accessibility Remediation: A Quick Guide for Getting Started
- Create a plan for regular accessibility audits. Audits should include tests performed by manual testers who use screen readers and other assistive technologies (AT).
- Build accessibility compliance into your business processes. Get every member of your team on board, not just developers and other technical workers.
- Consider accessibility at every step. Whether you’re redesigning your logo, publishing a blog, or communicating on social media, accessibility matters. Thinking about your users every day will help you make stronger decisions.
Accessibility requires an investment, but it has enormous tangible and intangible benefits. By becoming an accessibility leader, you’re doing the right thing for your users — and your customers will reward you for taking initiative.