In today’s digitally connected world, companies from small businesses to enterprises are crucially reliant on their websites to attract customers, generate leads, and convert sales.
However many companies, especially small and medium-sized businesses, are ignoring or undeserving users with disabilities, creating a digital divide that’s harming their brand and customers.
Almost 20% of the US population, around 61 million people in America live with some form of disability. Just as businesses are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that provide public accommodation or commercial facilities to take steps to communicate effectively with customers with disabilities, ADA Title III also requires organizations to ensure online accommodations such as web content and other electronic information technology are accessible by being usable people with various types of disabilities such as visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive disabilities.
For a website to accommodate various impairments, it should follow the international standard, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA. Businesses that are not meeting this requirement invite legal action, and a steady rise in litigation has been seen over the last several years.
Business owners have the power to change this dynamic. When designing, creating, and implementing their websites, they can improve the online experience for everyone.
The Case for Web Accessibility
Accessible web design doesn’t happen by accident. It’s an intentional decision that includes web designers, content creators, and marketers to optimize content for maximum inclusion. There are several reasons SMBs should undertake this endeavor.
First, businesses have a legal rationale for improving the accessibility of their websites and mobile apps.
In October 2019, the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that allowed blind people to sue Domino’s Pizza because its website was not accessible. Subsequently. The past several years have seen a significant uptick in the number of lawsuits by people with disabilities because companies’ websites and mobile apps fail to uphold Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding accessibility or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provided by the Web Accessibility Initiative.
The number of accessibility-related ADA lawsuits has increased 75% from 2018 to 2021 and that number is continuing to proliferate in 2021. Often, claimants are frustrated by shortcomings in existing technologies that seem more interested in checking boxes than providing a compelling or even capable user experience for people with disabilities. According to The National Law Review, “U.S. companies have been inundated with lawsuits in the past several years alleging that their websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and various state laws, including the California Unruh Act. Plaintiffs claim that the websites do not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) created by the nonprofit World Wide Web Consortium because visually impaired consumers allegedly cannot access the sites using screen-reader software.”
Companies cannot ignore the legal requirements to make their digital products accessible. However, businesses also need to make more than the minimum accommodations. Providing a compelling and empowering user experience for all people comes with a litany of ancillary positive effects.
By creating truly accessible digital products, organizations signal that equal access to the internet is more than a platitude or a future promise. It’s a human right that everyone can pursue today. That’s why website owners should give people with disabilities the best experience possible. When done correctly, there are cascading implications for people with disabilities as more platforms and services face competitive pressure to enhance their offerings, collectively creating a better internet for everyone.
This social acceptability has bottom-line implications. When websites are difficult to use, people with disabilities don’t engage with their brand or make purchases on their site. People with disabilities account for nearly 10 percent of online spending, but 71 percent of these potential customers will abandon a website that’s too difficult to use.
When businesses prioritize web accessibility, they avoid legal liability, but they also improve digital products for everyone, driving engagement, sales, and overall effectiveness.
How to Get Started
In many ways, businesses have never had more resources to comprehensively embrace web accessibility best practices. To begin the process, they should evaluate the solution landscape. While there are many products on the market to help with web accessibility, not all solutions are created equally. They will need to choose between automated, manual, and hybrid models, identifying and implementing the solution set that best supports their users.
To enhance user experience, avoid free software solutions, which obviously reduce upfront costs but diminish overall user experience, undermining the goal of making platforms broadly accessible without hindrance.
Perhaps most importantly, leaders always should remember the business truism: what gets measured gets done. Set clear, measurable accessibility milestones, and get to work. To propel these efforts, businesses will need to allocate financial and personnel resources to the initiative. Determine the most urgent accessibility hurdles, and align resources accordingly.
Improving and optimizing web accessibility won’t happen overnight, but it’s something that every SMB can improve moving forward.
A Closing Thought
Technology has the power to be a great democratizer, providing all people with the resources to learn, create, and participate in an expansive ecosystem of platforms and products. However, in the digital age, unequal access to the internet is a great divider, prohibiting disabled people from participating equally.
As companies evaluate their web offerings, they should keep accessibility top-of-mind, knowing that it’s the key that unlocks a better internet for everyone.
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