In theory the web is available to anyone, anywhere with an internet connection. But in reality there are many people who encounter frustrating barriers when trying to access it. A website that is optimised for accessibility can greatly benefit both your business and your customers.
While accessibility is focused towards improving web access for people with disabilities, it can also increase overall usability of your site, which can only mean positive results for your business.
Accessible practices such as consistent navigation, appropriate use of language, user-friendly buttons and descriptive links make your site easier to use for everyone. In fact, a study commissioned by Microsoft Research in 2003 showed that 57% of US computer users in the 18 to 64 age group (over 74 million people) were likely to benefit from accessible technology.
Extend your reach and influence
“I don’t need to worry about accessibility; disabled people represent such as small part of the market.” A common claim, but you might be surprised to learn how many people will benefit from accessible design.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines ‘disabilities’ as: “…an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.” The disabled are not only those with clear and easily categorical disabilities, but the many people with a range of both permanent and temporary physical and cognitive limitations. This includes people affected by ageing, and even people with temporary disability such as a broken leg or wrist sprain.
That’s a lot of people who could be accessing your products or services online that you may be excluding. Furthermore, by improving the accessibility of your web content, you’re contributing to Inclusive Design, which means your website will be more usable by all people – with or without disability. Through Inclusive Design you could gain greater market exposure and encourage more people to talk about and interact with your business.
Internet use by people with disabilities in Australia
Four million people in Australia (18.5%) in 2009 were reported to have a disability, according to the results of the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). Of these people:
- 70% had access to a computer at home.
- 61% had access to the internet.
- 53% aged 15 years or more had used the internet in the last 12 months (an increase of 50% since 2003).
- 90% aged 15-24 years had used the internet in the last 12 months.
"Shifting demographics dictates the need for further improvements in accessible design. The number of people… over 65 will rise from 390 million now to 800 million by 2025 – reaching 10 percent of the total population. As the overall number of elderly people increases, there is a corresponding rise in the number of persons with disabilities.” (European ICT Association analysing the results of a WHO analysis of global health situations and trends from 1965 to 2025)
Seniors have become very active online. They represent a large and often affluent target sector that is growing rapidly as a result of Australia’s ageing population. Their needs are often more complex than those of younger internet users due to reduced mobility, vision or hearing impairment and shorter memory. They can also be seen to have a greater propensity to voice their dissatisfaction, with more seniors lodging discrimination complaints than persons with disability. Inclusive Design can ensure you’re not excluding this important market.
What’s more, ageing will happen to you. One day, Inclusive Design could mean more to you than a business benefit.
Join the mobile revolution
Did you know that more than three-quarters of Australians now access the web using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets? To take advantage of this huge opportunity many businesses have made their websites ‘responsive’, which means that the display adapts to the device being used to view it.
Considering the ease at which people use mobile technologies these days, accessibility has become even more important for all users. Consider these very common situations:
- Mr. A is on a noisy train; captions help him understand the video he’s watching.
- Ms. B has to read tiny text from her phone screen; in-built zoom helps her do it.
- Dr. C is having difficulty viewing a glary screen; enhanced colour contrast makes it easier to see.
- Mrs. D has poor internet connection; smaller files mean downloads don’t take too long.
In all of these situations, accessibility features make the user experience easier. Plus, many mobile devices already have accessibility features built-in by the manufacturer. All you need to do is make sure your website has been optimised to work with these enhancements.
Accessibility can help to improve Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), expand your market, reduce legal risk, demonstrate your Corporate Social Responsibility and increase customer loyalty.
By providing quality content for all parts of your website, search engines will have a better understanding of its purpose. The more confident a search engine is of your website's purpose, all other things being equal, the higher it'll place your website in the search rankings.
Kudos and PR opportunities
Personal recommendations are gold in marketing terms. With most people being part of a social network, or common interest or support group, particularly those with a disability, word travels fast. A really positive experience or recommendation from a trusted friend is often a key factor in decision making. Similarly, a negative experience can easily turn into a bad reputation for your business.
Reduced legal risk
"In addition to considering the impact on their customers, businesses need to pay attention to increasing legislation, regulation and procurement requirements that can punish or reward businesses for their decisions in this area.” (Rob Sinclair, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft commenting on accessibility)
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 Australian government agencies must ensure that people with disabilities have the same fundamental rights to access information and services as others in the community.
In 2008 the Australian Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which specifically recognises that access to information, communications and services, including the internet, is a human right.
Australian Government agencies have mandatory compliance obligations under the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy.
Furthermore, the Australian Human Rights Commission strongly recommends: “existing non-government websites and web content should comply with WCAG 2.0 to a minimum level of AA conformance by December 31, 2013”.
Boost the labour market
In 2009, 54.3% of people with a disability participated in the labour force compared to 83% of people without disability. In a highly digital world, accessible design makes it easier for people with disabilities to be exposed to the same opportunities as everyone else. For example: access to job searches, employment research, and educational and training activities. It also increases their opportunity to practice computer skills – a necessity in today’s workforce.
Accessibility is easy to achieve, has many benefits and makes good business sense. If for no other, here are two reasons why businesses should take accessibility issues seriously:
- An accessible website will make you more money
- An accessible website will save you money
By making your site more accessible you encourage use by more people (both with and without disabilities) on more internet-enabled devices. It’ll be the businesses that don’t prioritise accessibility that get left behind – don’t risk it. Plus, enjoy the kudos of, well, just doing the right thing.