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Why is website accessibility becoming so popular?

May 1, 2019

The concepts that govern web accessibility have been around for a few decades, but in the past few years accessibility has started to pick up steam in public consciousness. So, why now is web accessibility becoming so popular?

First, what is web accessibility?

To begin to understand why public awareness and interest in accessibility are growing, it's important to know what the term means. Web, website, and digital accessibility are variations in terminology meant to describe the practice of making websites, mobile apps, and other digital platforms and tools usable for people with disabilities, including those who may use assistive technology like screen readers. In order to account for the different ways many people navigate, consume, and contribute to digital information, websites and apps must be built — or fixed — to be accessible. When accepted accessibility guidelines aren't followed, it can be difficult or impossible for large portions of the population to access the products and services available to others.

Related: How to Introduce People to Digital Accessibility: 7 Tips

8 reasons web accessibility is becoming so popular

Everything is going digital

This is an obvious, but important, place to start. As companies replace or supplement brick-and-mortar locations and physical products and services with digital ones, providing everyone access becomes critical. When someone can order groceries for later, order a pizza for now, and search around for the best deal and book a vacation without leaving the same spot on the couch, on the same smartphone, and without talking to a single person, hopefully the need for accessible experiences is clear.

Of course, digital enhancements can also be used in the real world around us. Read: Digital Accessibility in the Physical World: 5 Use Cases

Web accessibility lawsuits are on the rise

In 2018, at least 2,258 web accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal court, up from 814 in 2017, almost tripling from one year to the next. If there is something that will get the attention of businesses and help prompt change, the realization that expensive complaints and lawsuits are possible will often do it.

According to Mark Shapiro, President of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, "Based on the current trends, we think website accessibility lawsuits will not only continue, but will continue to increase in volume. At this point, we would not be surprised if the number of lawsuits filed in 2019 is 2.5 times higher than 2018."

Household names are in the news

Accessibility lawsuits can hit any industry, and popular businesses and figures are not spared. In the past few months, there has been media coverage of some well-known names on the wrong end of accessibility lawsuits. For example, it was determined that the website and app of Domino's pizza must be accessible. Beyonce's website was also in the news recently as the focus of an accessibility lawsuit. When cases involve such large names, accessibility and the laws that require it gain more visibility.

More developers and content creators are becoming skilled in accessibility best practices

The knowledge that is required to meet minimum accessibility standards is not close to where it should be on a widespread scale, but that may be changing. Every day, new developers and content creators who hadn't heard of or really understood accessibility yesterday are gaining skills that can help make websites and apps accessible to more people. These communities tend to be generous with their knowledge and share it in online blogs and other forums, and so as more build sufficiency in accessibility, hopefully it will be shared and found broadly. Even further, there is a need for accessibility to be taught alongside developer skills in college, certificate, and self-paced courses — this needs to happen sooner than later.

Related: 4 Reasons Self-Paced Training Works for Web Accessibility

More organizations are formalizing and publicizing their commitments to accessibility

More organizations are committing to meeting digital accessibility standards and they are letting people know about it. The trend can be seen in big and small companies, some who are leading the pack (companies like Apple and Microsoft) and others who are following suit, and this is a great thing.

Organizations should be sure to prepare an accessibility statement to declare their commitment to accessibility. It should present clear information about the company's target level of accessibility and the methods used to reach that target. Accessibility statements are becoming expected on public websites. Check out Chipotle's accessibility statement for a great example of a company with strong ethical values demonstrating their efforts to create accessible experiences.

Related: Digital Accessibility Benefits Your Brand

Brands are recognizing the value accessibility presents

There is still a myth out there that creating digital experiences to be accessible  or remediating for accessibility is a cost with little or no benefit. In fact, digital accessibility is an investment in your brand, your customers, cleaner technology, and compliance, and has other unexpected benefits. Organizations that understand the business case for accessibility are positioning themselves for success in the digital age.

Related: Five Ways to Improve Your SEO with Web Accessibility

Consumers are demanding web accessibility

Consumers have seemingly boundless choices these days and often want to do business with companies that support their values, and accessibility is increasingly becoming an expectation. Whether people with disabilities or organizations acting on their behalf are protecting their civil rights through complaints and lawsuits, or friends, family, and others who have increased accessibility awareness are using their voices to create change, when consumers demand something companies listen.

Assistive technology is becoming cheaper and easier to get — in some cases

This is not a claim that there aren't financial barriers to life-improving technologies — there still are and there might always be. Even so, assistive technology is becoming more mainstream and often less expensive than it was just a few years ago. Powerful technologies, like voice activation, that are critical for some people are making their way into everyday gadgets, so much so that people often don't realize they're using an assistive technology that may have been invented for people with disabilities. Check out Free Accessibility Tools and Assistive Technology You Can Use Today.

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