Accessibility may be the furthest thing from your mind when you’re just trying to get your startup off the ground, but it’s actually a crucial piece of the puzzle. Not only can accessibility save you a great deal of time and legal fees, it can also win your business more customers — which is essential when you’re in the growth phase of your startup.
This guide will discuss everything you need to know about accessibility as a startup: what it is, why it’s important to you, and how to achieve it within your company.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility is the design of products and services in order to be accessible by as many people as possible, including those with hearing, vision, motor, and cognitive disabilities.
In today’s increasingly digital world, the term “accessibility” often refers specifically to website and mobile accessibility: efforts to ensure that people with disabilities can successfully access and make use of your company’s digital presence.
People with disabilities sometimes have different ways of interacting with the world. Many of them use assistive technologies such as screen readers and speech recognition software in order to use a computer or browse the web. Accessibility means acknowledging these differences and breaking down the barriers that people with disabilities may face, to the greatest extent feasible for your company.
Why is accessibility important for startups?
1. Lack of accessibility alienates customers with disabilities
As a startup, it’s a near-guarantee that your potential customer base includes many people with disabilities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 26 percent of U.S. adults, or 61 million people, have some form of disability. These conditions take a variety of forms, and range from mild to life-altering.
Failing to properly accommodate people with disabilities will make it less likely that they’ll become returning customers, and more likely that they’ll be left with a negative impression of your business.
If your e-commerce website is incompatible with screen reader software, for example, people with blindness and low vision will leave your site because they’re unable to make purchases independently. Working-age U.S. adults with disabilities have $490 billion in disposable income, and they’re not afraid to vote with their wallet. According to estimates from the “Click-Away Pound” survey, British retailers lose £11.75 billion (US$14.3 billion) every year because their website is insufficiently accessible to people with disabilities.
2. Accessibility has benefits for people without disabilities too
What’s more, improving the accessibility of your websites and mobile apps will have positive effects beyond the impact on people with disabilities.
For example, web accessibility standards require you to display alternative text for photos on your website that succinctly and appropriately describes the content, as well as closed captions and transcripts for videos and audio. Translating multimedia files into text will help search engines like Google rank your web pages higher in their indices, so that the right people can find them more easily.
Improving accessibility also makes it easier for people without disabilities to use your website. Accessibility is part of the broader concern of usability, which focuses on making products and services easy to use and efficient by providing a strong user experience.
3. Accessibility helps the greater good
Whether it’s eco-friendliness or support for the local community, many startups are driven by some kind of social mission that demonstrates their commitment to improving the world around them. Promoting this mission isn’t just a noble cause — it also helps increase the visibility of your brand and build good PR among your customers.
Including accessibility as part of your startup’s social mission is a good way to show that you want to do more than maximize your profits. This will help you generate positive buzz about your company by showing that you’re dedicated to the principle of inclusivity.
4. Accessibility can protect your business from costly legal action
No matter whether you’re a tiny startup or a massive multinational, accessibility applies to everyone. The past several years have seen a dramatic spike in the number of lawsuits regarding website accessibility, from 814 in 2017 to 2,258 in 2018.
A series of legal cases have affirmed the interpretation that companies’ duty to be accessible extends into the digital realm as well. Receiving a demand letter of non-compliance is a sign that you could end up in the lengthy, expensive, and time-consuming litigation process.
5. Accessibility can be easier when you're a startup
As your organization grows in size, it may become more and more difficult to incorporate accessibility into your operations. Building an accessible website or mobile app from the ground up is much easier than trying to make it accessible once it’s already been developed.
The benefits of accessibility — building a larger customer base and defending against pricey lawsuits — are very real, and you can start enjoying them as soon as you move to make your startup accessible.
How to make sure startup accessible
The good news is that making your startup accessible doesn't have to be a highly difficult affair. Companies interested in accessibility have implemented mature, popular web accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly identified WCAG 2.0 Level AA (and in recently lawsuits, WCAG 2.1 has been mentioned) as an acceptable set of standards for a website to be called accessible.
WCAG is a list of recommendations (called “success criteria”) for web accessibility that are divided into three levels of compliance: A, AA, and AAA. They are also separated according to four accessibility principles: perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility blog contains a wealth of information about WCAG and web accessibility. For more information about making your website compliant and accessible, get in touch with our team of accessibility experts for a free consultation.