With our world at present being driven and ruled by software, it is now a legal, moral, and financial necessity to focus on digital accessibility. Shaun Foreman, Principal PM of Accessibility at Applause, takes a closer look at the evolving needs for digital accessibility and its impact on business.
When Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM) issued its annual report on the accessibility of the top 1 million websites in 2022, it detected more than 50 million distinct accessibility errorsOpens a new window , with an average of 51 errors per page.Â
Meanwhile, more than 2,800 website accessibility lawsuitsOpens a new window were filed in federal courts in 2021, an increase of 14 percent from 2020. These suits maintain that people with disabilities â€“ primarily sight and hearing disabilities â€“ can’t access business websites.Â
In the past, software and application developers could â€“ and often did â€“ ignore issues with accessibility. However, the massive increase in accessibility litigation means software developers can no longer bypass the need for improved usability for those with disabilities because the world runs on software and needs to work for everyone.
The fact is that creating inaccessible software is unprofessional and unethical because the world runs on software, and it needs to work for everyone. And if the moral imperative to create accessible software isn’t compelling enough to do so, the business imperative certainly is. Governments, nonprofits, educational institutions and major technology companies now are including contract requirements that require digital accessibility.
And the reality is that organizations should practice inclusive design and prioritize accessibility during development because it’s the right thing to do. All users want to interact with software in a meaningful way, with the ability to access all necessary app functions and features without having to create workarounds.
Three Benefits of an Inclusive Design
Organizations and developers should prioritize inclusive design so as many people can meaningfully utilize software environments as possible. As the world becomes increasingly more software-dependent, organizations should strive for accessibility because it’s the right thing to do and it’s good for business.Â
Let’s examine three reasons that organizations should practice inclusive design:
- Improved usability helps all customers â€“ not just those with disabilities
More than 1 billion people â€“ or 15 percent of the world’s population â€“ have some type of disabilityOpens a new window . And the World Health Organization (WHO) says the number continues to increase. Moreover, WHO maintains that every person will likely experience some form of disability at some point in life.
All users, regardless of whether they’re disabled, want software applications that provide them with a number of options for usability. Increasing the possibilities by which software can be accessed makes that software more user-friendly and improves the overall user experience.
In fact, incorporating inclusive design from the outset means businesses increase their overall number of users â€“ not just those with disabilities. In contrast, when software doesn’t perform well, end-users will abandon it and find options that are accessible.Â
Likewise, companies that don’t insist upon software accessibility for people with disabilities (PwD) face a number of negative consequences, including poor app store ratings, regulatory sanctions, and negative customer reviews. Indeed, customers have new options every day for learning about a company’s practices, and they’re quick to prioritize doing business with companies that reflect their needs and values.
- Improved usability expands your total addressable market (TAM)
As mentioned above, there are more than 1 billion disabled people worldwide, which means companies that focus on providing accessibility options â€“ especially for those with visual, hearing and mobile impairments â€“ can tap into a massive opportunity for new customers. Even if a company only stands to gain a tiny fraction of those with disabilities, it’s a readily available market that not only needs access â€“ but the law requires it.Â
Likewise, companies that insist upon inclusive software design make all customers feel valued and respected. That makes existing customers stickier while also improving customer reviews and feedback. That, then, translates to more overall users. Moreover, as companies that insist on inclusivity reduce churn, they also improve brand reputation, which leads to stronger profits â€“ a must for revenue-driven companies.Â
It’s also important to note that inclusivity is closely related to digital transformation, wherein companies use digital technologies to improve business processes and customer experience. Inclusive design is vital to digital transformation’s success, considering how people utilize technology.
Consider, for instance, all of how people interact with your website. They might look for jobs, make purchases, interact with customer service, watch webinars, and take courses â€“ the options are many, and they’re growing every day thanks to digitalization.
Now consider how all those options are limited for people with a disability if your company doesn’t prioritize accessibility and inclusive design. When software fails to meet the needs of everyone who interacts with your app or device, it means you’re not interacting with a valuable and important group of people.Â
See More: What Is Digital Asset Management (DAM)?Â
- Improved usability improves your regulatory position
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is increasingly referenced in lawsuits dealing with digital accessibility. Title III of the ADA requires that companies remove barriers that hinder people from accessing a company’s goods and services, and that requirement is successfully being used to sue companies.
For instance, a suit filed against Amazon by a legally blind manOpens a new window alleged that the company’s job page wasn’t compatible with his screen reader. As such, he sued Amazon for violating his equal-access rights.Â
The European Union (EU) is in the final stages of creating a digital accessibility law known as the European Accessibility ActOpens a new window (EAA), which establishes common rules on accessibility to remove barriers that impact people with disabilities. Not only does EAA establish standards for websites and mobile apps, but it also establishes requirements for things like ATMs, televisions, telephone services and more.
The reality is that companies that fail to prioritize digital accessibility face the loss of customers and increasingly face lawsuits based on these types of governmental regulations. Equally important is the fact that these standards shouldn’t be the last resort to force companies to embrace and insist upon digital accessibility.
Inclusivity and Accessibility for the Future
Companies that want to prioritize digital accessibility should insist that inclusive design is embedded into the software development lifecycle (SDLC) rather than considering it a low-priority bug fix. Just as software security is a critical factor throughout the SDLC, so should the attitude be toward incorporating accessibility and inclusive design.
This means companies need to incorporate accessibility testing in application design and development, as well as in test planning and execution. It’s vital for quality assurance (QA) teams to be trained on proper accessibility testing, which includes learning how to discover accessibility-related defects and regulatory requirement violations when testing web and mobile apps.
By promoting the importance of inclusive design and its principles, companies can ensure that they can quickly find, report and remediate accessibility defects, allowing them to conform to regulatory standards and exceed customer expectations.