You’ve talked with your legal department, and you’re confident that your website fulfills your basic obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Is your accessibility journey complete?
Not quite. Compliance is an important consideration, but accessibility isn’t about meeting the bare minimum.
It’s true that fighting a web accessibility lawsuit can be extremely expensive (and disastrous for your brand). But if you’re only thinking about compliance, you may be ignoring the real-world benefits of an accessible website.
Here’s how an accessibility-first mindset can help you make improvements that impact real-world users.
Digital accessibility provides an enormous return on investment
Your audience includes people with disabilities. That’s true regardless of the size of your business — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 4 U.S. adults live with disabilities, and worldwide, an estimated 1 billion people have at least one disability.
Simply put, you can’t afford to ignore that audience. In our rundown of the business benefits of accessible design, we discussed how accessibility can help you reach a wider range of customers:
- Accessible websites often perform better in search engine rankings. Learn how accessibility benefits search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns.
- Accessibility benefits your brand image by showcasing your business’s strong social values.
- Many accessibility improvements can directly benefit marketing efforts. For example, adding captions to videos can improve brand recall and user engagement.
- An accessibility-first strategy reduces the long-term costs of website development and maintenance. Ignoring users with disabilities builds an accessibility debt, increasing the eventual costs of remediation.
As your website’s accessibility improves, so do the benefits. And fixing barriers after-the-fact is often much more expensive than building them into the design of your digital products — when organizations think about ADA compliance as the last step in a process, they’re not focusing on the experiences of real-life users.
ADA compliance isn’t enough to realize the full benefits of inclusive design
Imagine that you’re visiting a restaurant. The entrance is just big enough to squeeze in, the service is adequate, and the menu is limited. The food is fine, but nothing special. Would you go back?
When you meet the minimal thresholds for ADA compliance, your customers get a bare-minimum experience. That’s certainly better than nothing — the vast majority of websites have serious accessibility barriers — but it’s not ideal.
To go further, you’ll need to prioritize accessibility when designing your products. This allows content to be more than just functional; users will enjoy a better experience overall, regardless of the technologies they use to access your website.
Test for compliance — then go further
While compliance shouldn’t be your primary focus, it’s certainly important. Many organizations start their accessibility journeys as a way of reducing legal exposure, and when you’re advocating for accessibility, you can highlight compliance as one of the many reasons to invest in inclusive design.
As the Justice Department notes, the ADA doesn’t include technical criteria for websites, mobile apps, and other digital products. However, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are widely considered to be the standards for digital accessibility.
Content that meets all Level A/AA requirements are considered generally accessible for most users with disabilities. You can identify areas for improvement by testing content regularly against the latest version of WCAG.
Some quick tips to keep in mind:
- Use a combination of manual and automated audits. The best practice is to start with an automated audit, which can give you a broad overview of your website’s current level of accessibility.
- Add accessibility into your onboarding and training. By working with an accessibility partner that offers on-site training or remote training, you can build a self-sustainable approach.
- Publish an accessibility statement. An accessibility statement defines your goals, notifies users of any known barriers, and provides contact information for reporting issues.
- Remember that all digital products must be accessible. In addition to your website, you should also prioritize accessibility when developing mobile apps, on-site kiosks, and web-delivered documents (such as PDFs).
If you’re ready to start your accessibility journey, we’re here to help. Send us a message to connect with an expert. For more help with ADA compliance, download our free eBook: Essential Guide to ADA Compliance for Websites.