Why Businesses Struggle with Web Accessibility (And How to Fix It)

October 18, 2022

An accessible website means more traffic, better search engine optimization (SEO), reduced exposure to lawsuits, and better brand perception — but despite the benefits, most businesses fail to adopt the principles of accessible design.

In their 2022 report on the state of digital accessibility, WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) found that 96.8% of the internet’s top 1 million homepages had detectable accessibility errors. That number was actually a slight improvement from previous years: WebAIM’s 2021 analysis found that 97.4% of websites had potential barriers for users with disabilities.

For businesses, those numbers should be a wakeup call. But despite growing awareness of digital accessibility, many organizations struggle to make concrete changes. 

Below, we’ll explain the key factors that prevent businesses from taking the right approach — and provide some tips for overcoming those challenges.

Many business leaders think of web accessibility as a “cost,” not an investment

In a 2016 Forrester Total Economic Impact study (PDF) commissioned by Microsoft, only 17% of organizations with accessibility programs classified those programs as “extremely successful.” The leading barrier for program success: The perceived high cost of providing accessible services and devices.

But accessibility is an investment, not a cost. Most organizations have a legal obligation to provide accessible web content, but setting aside the legal requirements, the business case for accessibility is strong: 

  • Accessible websites tend to have cleaner code, which means a more consistent experience for all users and lower long-term development costs.
  • Accessibility creates opportunities for brand advocates and facilitates positive interactions with customers.
  • More than 1 billion people worldwide live with disabilities. Websites that ignore these users miss an opportunity to connect with an enormous audience. 
  • Accessibility improves SEO and can enhance marketing efforts by giving people more ways to engage with content. 

Every business investment has a cost, but it’s important to recognize the potential return — and too often, decisionmakers focus on the price tag while ignoring the benefits. 

Related: Digital Accessibility Benefits Your Brand

Organizations frequently fail to support for accessibility initiatives

In the aforementioned Forrester survey, respondents also cited a lack of domain expertise (25% of respondents), a perceived lack of tools (21%), and a lack of training (17%) as further accessibility barriers. Essentially, their employers asked them to create accessible products without providing education or support. 

These problems occur when accessibility is treated as a one-time project rather than an organizational principle. Every individual within a business needs to make a commitment — otherwise, the work will fall on one employee or team, which isn’t ideal.

When accessibility takes a backseat, fixing barriers becomes more difficult. Employees may feel frustrated, and they may “fix" accessibility barriers in a way that fails to improve the real-life experiences of people with disabilities.  

Organizations can support their accessibility initiatives in various ways: 

Ultimately, it’s not enough to say “we value users with disabilities.” Inclusivity needs to be a consistent priority from the first stages of development.

Related: Why Accessibility Should Be A Priority (And How to Start Prioritizing)

People with disabilities should be part of the conversation

Imagine that you’re tasked with building an eCommerce website for French consumers. You have a solid understanding of web development, but you don’t speak French, and you’ve never been to France. What would be the first step? 

Naturally, you’d hire French content writers, a French compliance team, and a French web design team. Your goal would be to build a website that works well for your target audience, which would be practically impossible without input from people who understand France’s language and culture.

Now, imagine that you’re testing a website to make sure that it’s accessible with a screen reader. What should be the first step? 

To people in the accessibility space, the answer seems obvious: Hire experts who use screen readers on a regular basis. 

Unfortunately, many organizations skip this step. They might ask a sighted developer to learn how to use a screen reader, or they might simply trust automated tools to evaluate accessibility. Needless to say, those methods aren’t ideal. Many aspects of accessibility require human judgment, and it makes sense to include people who live with disabilities in the process. 

Human experts can identify barriers, suggest remediations, and review automated tests for accuracy, greatly improving the results of each audit. 

Related: When User Testing for Accessibility, Involve People with Disabilities

Create a long-term strategy for web accessibility

At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we’re committed to helping every organization achieve its accessibility goals.

Our accessibility audits utilize a four-point hybrid testing methodology that combines powerful automation with human expertise, including manual tests performed by testers with visual disabilities. We believe that a hybrid approach provides the best method to achieving web accessibility goals and maintaining digital compliance. 

If you need help developing an accessibility program for your enterprise, we’re here to help. Send us a message to discuss on-site training, self-paced training, and website accessibility audits.

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