The Business Case for an Accessible Website

October 15, 2021

Every enterprise has an ethical (and in some cases, a legal) responsibility to accommodate people with disabilities. Unfortunately, ethical cases aren’t always persuasive when allocating investments in projects — and many decision makers assume that while accessibility is important, it has a limited effect on operating expenses, profits, and other metrics of business success. 

This isn’t the case. The global market of people with disabilities includes more than 1 billion people, according to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C-WAI). Organizations that ignore these consumers limit their potential growth. 

And since many of the fundamentals of accessible design improve the on-page experience for all customers, regardless of their abilities, the business case for accessibility is incredibly strong. Businesses of all sizes can see dramatic results by prioritizing users with disabilities — and website accessibility will continue to yield a growing number of benefits over the next decade. 

Accessibility improves on-site experiences for all users

The disabilities community isn’t small, and the most obvious reason to consider accessibility is to increase market share. Per the American Institute for Research, US adults with disabilities have a total after-tax disposable income of about $490 billion. Disabilities and conditions affect those people in extremely different ways; a person who is blind, for instance, may have an entirely different web browsing experience than a person with mobility-related disabilities. 

The goal of a digital accessibility initiative is to provide the same essential experience to all of your website’s visitors. This process has established standards and practices — most notably the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a principle-based document that provides guidance for avoiding accessibility barriers. 

Following the WCAG framework benefits customers who don’t have permanent disabilities that affect their day-to-day lives. For example:

  • Websites with appropriate color contrast ratios can accommodate people with certain vision-related disabilities. Customers who browse your site on small screens or in brightly lit settings may be able to read text more easily. 
  • Adding captions and transcripts to video content accommodates people with hearing- and cognitive-related conditions. This also allows users to browse your content without turning on sound while they’re working or commuting. When NPR program This American Life introduced transcripts to its website, 1.14 million unique visitors viewed at least one transcript.
  • Simplifying your ecommerce website’s checkout process accommodates people with memory impairments. A more streamlined checkout process may also increase conversion rates.

The fundamental principles of WCAG are perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness — which are also core principles of effective web design. By committing to accessibility, your site can address unanticipated problems that affect your entire user base. 

Read: 6 Unexpected Benefits of Web Accessibility

Accessible websites benefit from better search engine positioning

68% of online experiences start with a search engine, according to a 2019 report from search engine optimization (SEO) firm BrightEdge. Organic traffic from search engines is incredibly valuable, and implementing WCAG standards can address many of the most common SEO mistakes.

For instance, adding relevant subheadings to a page can improve the experience for screen readers while sending strong signals to search engines. Providing transcripts of audiovisual media gives search engines important information about the media’s content. WCAG also includes guidance for writing accurate page titles, improving navigation elements, and identifying content languages — all essential SEO techniques.

Search engines like Google don’t explicitly consider accessibility in their algorithms (at least, not at the time this article was written), but that’s largely because the best practices of accessibility overlap with the best practices of SEO. Accessible websites are well positioned for long-term organic growth.

Read: SEO Is Changing: Exploring the Link Between Accessibility and Search Rankings

Building for accessibility can reduce operational costs and improve branding

The process of creating an accessible website includes quite a bit of technical optimization. Developers need to plan for future technologies, while designers might decide to give users control over certain aesthetic features. These innovations can reduce the cost of ongoing maintenance — when a site’s code is accessible, it tends to be clean and well organized.

An accessible website can provide other immediate, tangible benefits for businesses:

  • More natural interfaces that encourage users to take action
  • Innovative website features that drive brand loyalty
  • Better public relations, often including recognition for accessibility improvements
  • Fewer customer service resources allocated to providing website assistance
  • Improved user satisfaction and enhanced brand sentiment
  • Minimized risk for accessibility-related litigation

And when accessible design is prioritized early, businesses can avoid the higher investments associated with retrofitting. That’s not a minor concern: With the increasing number of website accessibility lawsuits, businesses have strong incentives to demonstrate their commitment to standards like WCAG. 

Web accessibility is an essential priority, and it offers an excellent return on investment. With that said, devoting resources to accessibility and inclusivity can limit the associated expenses— improving the potential returns. 

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