The concept of web accessibility is not new, but ironically, as websites become more sophisticated, they’re apt to become less accessible. It’s no wonder, then, that as web and app development advances, the issue of accessibility is coming to the fore. But is it worth the investment?
We spoke with accessibility consultant Luke McGrath, who made it clear that the answer is “yes.” Here are five reasons why your company should invest in web accessibility.
Grow Your Reach
“Around a fifth of people have some form of disability, ranging from severe impairment of one or more senses to minor reduction in ability,” McGrath says. “The more accessible a website is, the greater the chance these users can complete the tasks they want to, whether that’s joining your newsletter or buying something from your store. Simply put, web accessibility will save you lost conversions.”
Cumulatively, inaccessible websites contribute to the “digital divide”—the gap between those who have access and those who don’t. A recent Pew Research report found that Americans with disabilities were three times as likely to say they never go online. Even after controlling for age, people with disabilities are taking up technology at lower rates. What could be discouraging them? Either it’s the very real inability to get something of value out of it, or it’s the perception of inability.
The ways accessibility grows your reach don’t stop with people living with disabilities. Sometimes, impediments lie not with people, but with the technology they’re using. “Users with slow internet connections,” McGrath says, “and those on mobiles, and even those who are unfamiliar with the web—all benefit from clear and accessible websites.”
Project Your Company Values
When it comes to representation in media, we’re conscious of the need to be inclusive—you wouldn’t want it to seem like your product is intended only for a certain type of person, right? Think of accessibility as inclusivity not in the message, but in the medium itself.
As a result, the impact of your project’s accessibility reaches well beyond the people who depend on that accessibility, and gives everyone who comes into contact with it the sense that your organization strives to be inclusive.
“I often use the example of a candy shop,” McGrath says. “Would the owner ever make the door hard to open, turn the lights off, or put the candy on high shelves and take all the labels off the jars? That’s effectively what an inaccessible website does. From there, it’s not hard to imagine that even people who can buy the candy don’t enjoy the process, and will soon move somewhere else. Plus, it’s likely they’ve heard from someone—one of the 20 percent of their friends with a disability—that the shop is no good. Reputations are easy to damage, and very hard to recover.”
Boost Your Effectiveness
Whatever your site or app is attempting to do—whether that’s sell products or simply deliver content—it has to be legible. That’s something that affects how easy it is to navigate a site and find what you want, but also how easy it is to extract information once you find it.
Pale grey type on a white background may look sophisticated—but you don’t have to be visually impaired to find it difficult to make out. Eyestrain is real, especially when reading from a tiny screen. And while multitouch that lets users zoom in can help, it’s of limited usefulness if your text doesn’t reflow—and no help at all to someone browsing from a desktop.
Legibility doesn’t end with a site’s appearance, either. It’s also affected by how information is organized. If your point is to convey your ideas, why not make them digestible? Keep it short! Put it in bullets! For people with learning or cognitive disabilities, this could be the difference between whether or not the information is retained. For people with no impairments, it could be the difference between whether or not they’re engaged enough to keep reading.
“An accessible site helps every user,” McGrath confirms. “It enforces clarity, simplicity, and ease of use. As a result, everyone can get what they want from the site regardless of ability—I can’t imagine why a business would restrict any user.”
A website with an animated splash page designed to look spectacular at 1366 × 768 pixels is a wonderful thing to have—but if it’s not responsive, how’s it going to look on someone’s phone, where the screen ratio isn’t the same? In fact, the most popular screen resolution today is 360 × 640 pixels—which is taller than it is wide. If the way you present your content can’t adapt, all your intricate design work is for naught.
In fact, many people who don’t consider themselves disabled still choose to engage with accessibility features—people who prefer keystrokes to reaching for a mouse, or find laptop trackpads annoying; people in noisy areas who turn on captions to help them understand what people in a video are saying.
More is not always more; rich media can look impressive, but if they depend on a specific type of interaction or display, or if they slow down your site, then many people may not be able to access them—or care to. On the other hand, if your site can be accessed by a wide range of different people and technologies, odds are good it can do lots of other things as well.
Lower Your Costs
Keeping a website responsive means constant updates. If your site is “perfect” but rigid, then every change you make is going mean overhauling the entire thing, which quickly gets time consuming and costly. As McGrath explains, “Over-engineering a website often leads to extra expenses in maintenance costs and training time for staff, and more bugs and errors. Cut those out, and you gain back time and money—two resources you can then put into building your business.”
On a fundamental level, baking in accessibility boosts a site’s flexibility, which can improve your efficiency with everything from redesigning user interfaces, making pages responsive to different browser types and screen ratios, helping pages to communicate with off-site business solutions, and even packing in more SEO-boosting measures.
But also consider the fact that the everyday use and maintenance of your site is being performed by human beings—and human beings mean human error. It’s one thing to lose a customer because they can’t access your content. It’s another to waste your employees’ time because they can’t decipher the code or markup they’re working with. Improve legibility, and you reduce head-scratching—and errors.
“One of the great things about building for accessibility is it makes you think about what you really need and the best way to implement it,” McGrath says. “Simplifying your interface (both back-end CMS and front-end pages) makes it easier, faster, and therefore less costly to maintain.”