One of the most common misconceptions about web accessibility is that it’s an expensive or unnecessary addition to a development project. Creating a truly accessible website requires expert assistance and testing; many businesses assume that the investment won’t yield a return immediately, if ever. Of course, this isn’t the case. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) addresses this myth in their web content accessibility fact sheet.
“Designing a new site to be accessible should not add significantly to development cost,” the organization notes. “Some aspects of accessibility, such as use of style sheets, can actually reduce the costs of maintaining or updating sites, and this benefit should increase over time …”
It’s true that web accessibility has associated expenses. By taking on an accessibility initiative, an organization commits to paying for development, testing, and training. Building a shared commitment isn’t always easy, particularly in larger organizations, and retrofitting a website to add accessible features can be quite the expenditure.
However, by planning from the earliest stages of development, organizations can minimize these expenses. The benefits can be substantial: Accessible content attracts larger audiences, and many businesses will pay less for ongoing site maintenance. Digital accessibility is also legally required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and businesses that ignore users with disabilities take significant risks.
With the right approach, site owners can see the practical benefits of accessibility — and play their part in creating a more accessible internet.
Accessible websites are more effective resources.
The simplest way to limit the costs of accessibility is to be proactive. Many accessibility factors are structural, but by thoughtfully implementing the core practices of accessible design, you can create a robust product without spending significantly more money on development.
In other words, it’s easier (and cheaper) to build in features than to add them in after the fact. Analyzing the cost of web accessibility can be difficult; a major e-commerce retailer will likely spend tens of thousands of dollars to create an accessible site, while a small site might only spend several thousand. However, expenses directly related to accessible design typically won’t dramatically expand the budget for a new project.
That doesn’t mean that retrofitting a site is impractical or unnecessary. The principles of accessible design improve the on-page (or in-app) experience for your entire audience. Some benefits to consider:
- Accessibility improves customer retention. By one estimate, customer acquisition is five times more expensive than customer retention, and accessible sites improve retention substantially.
- Accessibility opens up a larger audience. About 1 in 4 adults in the United States have a disability, and situational disabilities (such as low lighting conditions or a slow internet connection) can affect any user. Brands that ignore accessible design lose revenue from those potential customers.
- Accessible sites can be easier to maintain. Cleaner code can mean faster load speeds, better search engine optimization, and simpler spot fixes for usability concerns.
- An accessible approach may also protect against litigation. Per one report from Accessibility.com, 265,000 businesses received website accessibility demand letters in 2020. Hiring accessibility experts is quite a bit cheaper than fighting an accessibility lawsuit, and ADA compliance is a major consideration.
Inclusive websites and apps can enhance your brand, improve customer loyalty, and future-proof your content. The investment’s certainly worth the time and effort, regardless of whether you’re building a new site or updating your established content.
Accessible websites offer a better experience for everyone.
While building an accessible product requires some planning, it shouldn’t require a complete reorientation of your business. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide an excellent framework for meeting the needs of users with disabilities. The standards are built around basic principles that every member of your team can understand and incorporate. For established websites, accessibility audits for WCAG conformance can provide clear, actionable steps.
Businesses have legal and ethical responsibilities to provide reasonable access for consumers, but accessibility has distinct benefits apart from meeting these obligations. WCAG-conformant sites are better positioned for long-term growth, and they allow brands to create better relationships with their users. Put simply, accessibility is a necessary investment that yields tangible real-world benefits.