Starting a business isn’t exactly easy. After writing your business plan, you need to think about structure, funding, and location — not to mention registrations, taxes, and other legal obligations.
If you’re taking on that workload, there’s another important consideration to keep in mind: web accessibility.
Your audience includes people who have disabilities, and accessible digital resources are a powerful asset. Worldwide, people with disabilities control about $8 trillion in disposable income, and that number is growing.
The good news: Web accessibility is much easier (and much less expensive) when you prioritize people with disabilities from the very beginning. By operating an accessible website, you can gain an early competitive advantage and reduce your legal exposure.
Is web accessibility optional for small businesses?
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits businesses from discriminating against people with disabilities in places of public accommodation. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has repeatedly expressed its opinion that websites qualify as places of public accommodation, and a number of international non-discrimination laws have gone further by explicitly requiring digital accessibility.
Even without the threat of litigation, digital accessibility is an absolute necessity. About 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. By producing accessible web content, you can ensure that these individuals have better online experiences.
And since the best practices of inclusive design overlap with the best practices of web design, accessibility benefits everyone. If a customer visits your website with sound disabled, or if they’re unable to load images, they receive the same essential experience as other users — and you have an opportunity to win their business.
An early focus on web accessibility helps you grow your audience
About 1 in 5 businesses say that their primary challenge is low web traffic. If your business is struggling to attract visitors, accessibility is an important part of the solution.
Many of the practices of accessibility overlap with the principles of search engine optimization (SEO). For example:
Providing pages with accurate title tags may improve navigation for people who use screen readers and other assistive technologies (AT). Accurate title tags are also an important signal for search engines.
Providing alternative text (also called alt text) for images helps to accommodate users with vision disabilities, and may also help search engines understand your content.
Providing transcripts and other text alternatives to non-text content can improve the on-page experience for all users — while greatly expanding your site’s library of crawler-friendly content.
Accessibility also improves your social reach, and when you promote your commitment to inclusive design, your brand reputation benefits.
While accessibility requires an investment, it’s less expensive as an upfront cost
The world of digital accessibility has an established set of standards: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Following WCAG provides a host of practical benefits. When you think about accessibility from the first stage of product development, you can maximize those benefits while reducing the work needed to maintain an accessible website.
When creating your business’s website, keep these tips in mind:
Familiarize yourself with the four major categories of accessibility. By understanding these principles, you can understand why specific WCAG are important and how they affect real-life users.
Set a goal. Most businesses should aim for Level AA conformance with the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 on the way). Read about the differences in WCAG conformance levels.
Use a combination of automated and manual tests to find potential accessibility issues. Wherever possible, manual testing should involve people with disabilities who have experience with screen readers and other AT.
Test your content frequently during development. For optimal conformance, continue to test content every 4-6 months or whenever content changes significantly.
Publish an accessibility statement. An accessibility statement outlines your goals and current level of accessibility, while providing your users with ways to submit feedback about accessibility barriers.
Even if you have limited resources, web accessibility should be part of your budget — remember, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Every business has a responsibility to produce accessible digital products, and WCAG provides the best foundation for creating inclusive content.