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The Attention Economy and Digital Accessibility

Aug 2, 2023

Are your users paying attention? If not, the best practices of digital accessibility may help — and enhance your business’s growth by keeping potential customers engaged.

The “attention economy" is a term popularized by Michael H. Goldhaber, a theoretical physicist and founder of the Center for Technology and Democracy. In a 1997 essay, Goldhaber argued that the economy would be driven by attention — not by production, distribution, or even information. 

Businesses would rise and fall based on whether they could keep their customers' attention (and convert that attention into sales or ad revenue). 

Nearly a quarter century later, Goldhaber’s predictions seem remarkably accurate. Attention is scarce — and businesses that can keep their customers' attention tend to profit. 

Enter digital accessibility: A set of practices that improve experiences for all users by recognizing the different ways that people access the internet. 

The best practices of accessibility keep users interested

Developers understand the importance of providing clean, intuitive interfaces that keep users onsite. Whether you’re operating an eCommerce store or building a niche mobile app, your goal is to move users through processes and keep them coming back. 

To accomplish that goal, you’ll need to meet user expectations. Inclusive design can help: A one-size-fits-all approach leaves people out of the conversation, but when you recognize that the “ideal user" makes up a small portion of your audience, you can create higher quality content.

Inclusive design starts with accessibility. The four core principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can help developers find ways to innovate: 

  • Content must be perceivable for all users (and not rely on a specific type of sensory perception).
  • Content must be operable. It must not require a type of interaction that some users cannot perform.
  • Content must be understandable. People should understand how to navigate and operate the content.
  • Content must be robust. It must be compatible with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

When your content fulfills these principles, it’s well positioned to keep users' attention. 

For example, if your videos have accurate captions, they’re more useful for people with hearing disabilities — and for all other users. More than 100 empirical studies have shown that captions improve video comprehension and recall, so captions are a crucial tool for marketing.

When content has descriptive subheadings, it’s more navigable for people who use screen readers; it’s also more understandable for people who simply want to scan through the web page to find the content they need. Subheadings may also improve search engine optimization (SEO), drawing more visitors to your content.

Related: 4 Digital Accessibility Features That Benefit Everyone

WCAG provides a framework for capturing users' attention

Accessibility improvements benefit everyone and allow you to create thoughtful, relevant content. You can build innovative features that appeal to every user, regardless of their abilities. 

And while building an accessibility initiative requires some work, accessibility is an investment, not a cost. By following WCAG and auditing your content regularly, you’ll provide a better experience for real-life users. That translates to better brand positioning, more traffic, and enhanced user retention.

Brands can embrace accessibility by following a few simple steps:

  • Make accessibility a priority. Don’t assign the work to a single person or team; recognize that every member of your organization can contribute by taking a more inclusive approach.
  • Remember that all digital products must be accessible. That includes websites, mobile apps, and web-delivered documents — any materials you use to interact with your customers.
  • Have a testing strategy. Use automated tools for basic audits, then work with accessibility experts to remediate issues. Read about the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s four-point hybrid testing methodology
  • Publish an accessibility statement. An accessibility statement declares that you’re focused on accessibility and taking steps to improve.
  • Consider accessibility when developing any new product or feature. Remember, building for accessibility is much easier (and less expensive) than remediation.

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility can help your organization build a self-sustainable approach for digital compliance. Visit our Compliance Roadmap for free resources and testing tools or 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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