Digital accessibility is a set of principles and practices that aims to make the web more useful to people with disabilities. It needs to remain a priority throughout the development of a website or app — as we’ve discussed frequently on this blog, accessibility is a long-term process, not a one-off project. By advocating for accessibility, you can build a larger audience and deliver an improved experience for all users.
If you’re not sure whether committing to accessibility makes sense for your organization, consider the statistics: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 25% of US adults live with a disability, and that percentage is expected to grow over the next decade due to an aging population. At least 15% of the global population lives with some form of disability, per an estimate from the World Health Organization, and the actual percentage may be higher. When content isn’t accessible, it has a limited audience.
And while permanent disabilities are an important part of the conversation, internet users also experience temporary or situational disabilities. Accessible design ensures that these users aren’t left out of the conversation. Many of the standard practices of accessibility (such as writing clearer content, adding image alt text, and providing consistent navigational elements) can dramatically improve the user experience.
Accessible design is much easier (and less expensive) when prioritized early
Content creators have an ethical and legal responsibility to accommodate users with disabilities. In the United States, courts have generally interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as applicable to digital content, and directives like the European Accessibility Act (EAA) and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) have established accessibility compliance requirements for private and public organizations worldwide.
The world of accessibility has clear rules and standard practices, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide guidance to help creators improve their digital content. With that said, there’s a right time to start making those improvements: As early as possible.
“Retrofitting" your existing content can make it more accessible — and if you’ve already published a website or app with accessibility issues, you can expand your audience considerably by making improvements as soon as possible. However, by adopting the principles of accessibility early in development, you can enjoy more of the benefits:
- Developers who follow the best practices of accessibility tend to write clean, concise code, which can make updates less expensive.
- Accessible design can improve search engine optimization (SEO). When accessibility is an early priority, websites can achieve improved search engine rankings.
- Businesses that commit to accessibility enjoy higher customer satisfaction rates and improved audience retention.
Every site can grow its audience and deliver a better user experience by becoming more accessible. But when content is designed with the principles of accessibility in mind, the associated costs are much lower — and more predictable.
Accessibility involves every member of your team
To prioritize accessibility, employers need to avoid a common misconception: The idea that accessibility is the responsibility of the developers and/or designers.
While WCAG contains various technical criteria that apply to these workers' day-to-day jobs, digital accessibility requires a team effort. From customer service to human resources to management, every member of your organization should consider how their decisions could affect real people. By promoting accessibility, inclusivity, and usability, you can build a much stronger enterprise.
Some tips for establishing your organization’s commitment to accessibility:
- Bring accessibility experts into the conversation. Qualified experts can help your organization write an accessibility statement, establish better practices, and remediate issues before they affect your users.
- Have an established process for reporting accessibility concerns. Every member of your team should have the same opportunity to report these concerns; for instance, a customer service representative may be able to identify access barriers that developers wouldn’t consider.
- Use established frameworks when discussing disabilities and accessibility. Review the latest version of WCAG (currently 2.1, with 2.2 scheduled for official release later this year). Set clear goals: Will your organization aim for a specific level of conformance? What steps will your team take to meet that goal?
Finally, remember that accessibility rules can change frequently. New technologies lead to new considerations for content creators. Ongoing training can help your team remove barriers that affect real-life customers. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers self-paced interactive training, along with on-site accessibility training programs tailored to the unique needs of each organization.