Why is Digital Accessibility Important?

February 21, 2022

Digital accessibility is a set of practices intended remove barriers for people with disabilities. If your organization operates a website or offers a mobile app, accessibility is a crucial consideration, and for most organizations in the public and private sectors, it’s legally required.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a clear framework for creating accessible content. In order to put the guidelines into practice, you’ll need to understand the benefits of an accessible approach — and create a long-term strategy to adopt the best practices of accessible design.

Below, we’ll look at several statistics that highlight the importance of digital accessibility. If you’re ready to get started, view our Compliance Roadmap to find free resources and additional guidance.

1. At least 1 billion people worldwide live with some form of disability

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about 15% of the world’s population experiences disability, and the number of people with disabilities is expected to increase due to demographic trends and other factors.

In the United States, about 25% of adults live with a disability, and that doesn’t include people with situational disabilities (if you’ve ever browsed the internet with a slow connection or attempted to watch a video without turning on sound, you’ve encountered a situational disability). Digital accessibility improves the experience for all of these users.

Most people will need to adapt their web browsing habits at some point in their lives as a result of a condition like low vision, low hearing, or impaired mobility — websites that don’t provide appropriate resources for these users face serious challenges. 

Related: Every Website Has Users with Disabilities — Make Sure You're Aware of Them

2. Globally, people with disabilities control about $6.9 trillion in disposable income

That number comes from Forbes. The American Institute for Research estimates that in the United States alone, people with disabilities have an estimated annual disposable income of about $490 billion (PDF). For businesses that operate e-commerce websites, ignoring accessibility means turning away millions of customers (and potential revenue).

And since accessibility improvements can enhance the shopping experience for everyone, the real cost of non-compliance is much higher. Shoppers abandon about 70 percent of their purchases in the shopping cart, but streamlined checkout processes with predictable, intuitive controls can improve conversions considerably. The best practices of accessibility are closely aligned with the best practices of web design, and by prioritizing an inclusive approach, e-commerce sites can offer a better experience for all users.

Even if your organization doesn’t sell products or services online, accessibility issues may harm your brand. Digital accessibility creates more opportunities for brand advocates and can improve search engine optimization (SEO).

Related: Online Shopping and ADA Compliance: What You Need to Know

3. Businesses receive 265,000 demand letters a year

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits businesses from discriminating against people with disabilities in “places of public accommodation,” and the Department of Justice has regularly opined that websites and mobile apps qualify as places of public accommodation. 

In an Accessibility.com report they estimated that in 2020, businesses received 265,000 website accessibility demand letters. In total, brands may have spent billions of dollars responding to ADA complaints.

While the ADA does not set specific technical standards for digital accessibility, ADA complaints frequently reference WCAG conformance failures. The Justice Department has also referenced WCAG 2.0 Level AA as a reasonable standard for digital accessibility. By achieving WCAG conformance, brands may protect themselves from expensive legal fees.

Related: Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?

4. 97.4% of the top 1 million websites fail to comply with WCAG 2.0

The 2021 WebAIM Million Report analyzed the home pages of the top one million websites using automated WCAG testing tools.

Automated testing isn’t perfect — artificial intelligence tools frequently report false negatives and false positives, which is why the W3C recommends using both manual and automated tests when auditing for WCAG conformance. However, even after accounting for false positives, WebAIM’s analysis demonstrates the scope of the issue: Barriers like missing alternative text, low-contrast text, and improperly labeled form input labels can impact the experience of users with disabilities. 

Unfortunately, those issues are extremely common. By auditing your content for WCAG conformance, you can find effective remediation tactics and prevent barriers from occurring in the first place. 

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers resources to help your organization set and meet conformance goals. To determine whether your digital content follows WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards, get started with a free, confidential compliance summary. 

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