Josie Klafkowska
Josie Klafkowska 20 June 2019
Categories Customer Experience

Accessibility Is a Business Need, Not a Nice to Have

Accessibility is a fashionable term but relatively rare to see embedded in most companies. It's fair to say, it's not usually a prime consideration in digital experience projects. In fact, it's often the first thing to be sacrificed in order to scale.

Building a great digital experience is complex and time-consuming and scaling exponentially increases this. As a result, accessibility is often confined to the “deal with it later” or the “too hard” pile.

But there’s a cost to this short-termism. Over 20% of the world’s population has a disability - one in five people. In the UK alone, the combined spending power of people with a disability and their families is around £239bn a year. That’s quite an opportunity to dismiss as “too hard”. With long life expectancy and other contributing factors leading to a rise in the numbers of those classed with disabilities, there is no doubt that the “purple pound” is on the rise. Therefore, ensuring your digital products and services are accessible to all potential consumers isn’t just a moral imperative, it is also good business sense.

However, considering the opportunity that accessibility presents for the bottom line, it remains a poorly defined buzzword and few people have a grasp on how to bring it to life. For many website owners, developers and testers, just enough, is just enough. A Minimum Viable Product might be just compliant enough to fly under the legislative radar. However, in June 2018 alone, 150 ADA (American Disabilities Act) lawsuits were filed in federal court - showing the risks of costly legal action for businesses.

What happens though, if we move from a position of reactive compliance to taking a proactive stance? What steps do you need to take and what are the benefits?

  1. Audit: Every transformation needs to start with a comprehensive assessment of where your organisation is in terms of accessibility. This provides the baseline by which you can measure your improvements.
  2. Goals: Consider where you want to be post audit, post action. Using the Global WCAG standards can help you set appropriate measures for your organisation in terms of accessibility.
  3. Prioritise: Now you’ve opened up the can of worms you need to figure out what to do first. Most business advice would be to tackle the big problems first. However, in this case it’s usually better to tackle the easy stuff such as content issues before you progress to front end fixes such as CSS and then move to design, overhauling back end issues.

This all helps with the build aspect of accessibility but rigid compliance to WCAG or other standards does not, in and of itself, guarantee usability. And you do want all those potential consumers to actually be able to navigate your products and services don’t you?

The design phase is when you need to put the customer experience at front of mind. Here it pays dividends to walk a mile in your customers’ shoes. It’s helpful to build personas incorporating situational, temporary and permanent disabilities in order to be aware of the diverse range of scenarios your customer might face. Even better would be to include people with disabilities in your user testing phase.

Once you’ve fixed the back end and usability of your site you can get to the fun stuff - content. Again, accessibility merits more thought than changing all the type to COMIC SANS BOLD. You need to ensure your site is easy and intuitive to navigate, with headlines you can scan. Consider the language you use, have a clear and coherent writing style and keep it simple. Colour contrast is important. Not just for those with low vision levels but anyone accessing your content on the move. Over 50% of smartphone users grab their phones immediately after waking up. Again, a big potential customer base that can be better served.

Contextual images need an alt text descriptor for users who find it hard to see them. And conversely, decorative images should not, so that they can be safely ignored by screen readers. Having subtitles and transcripts for video content is a no-brainer, both for those with hearing impairment and for the visually impaired to easily convert to Braille.

All this may seem a lot of work. And it is. But once you’ve done the hard work you need to maintain it in order to avoid future disruptive and potentially costly compliance projects. You need to build this into the DNA of an organisation by defining a governance framework and clearly documenting standards and best practices for each function. Then assign ownership and responsibility that is enforced with a vigorous internal process.

Moving to this proactive approach is the only way to bring real change and make accessibility part of your organisation, not just a nice to have.

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