The Business Case for Accessibility in Web Design

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Explore four reasons why greater accessibility in web design for people with disabilites and impairments is the smart and responsible thing to do. Plus, learn how to persuade your boss to invest in accessibility.

The moral case for accessibility in web design is fairly black and white—you either think people with disabilities deserve the same access to your site as anyone else, or you don’t. Convincing management of the business case is less cut-and-dry. Fortunately, accessible design comes with ancillary benefits that make persuading your boss to “do the right thing” a little easier. To get you started on winning the argument at your work, here are four focus areas:

Braille terminal for blind users to navigate the web

1. Accessible sites prevent unnecessary legal expense.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is about more than wheelchair ramps and other physical accommodations. In 2006, a federal judge determined it applies to websites too. This decision was part of a $6 million settlement against Target after a class action alleged Target.com wasn’t accessible to the blind. While Target’s own legal expenses were never disclosed, the company paid another $3.7 million reimbursing plaintiff fees. Before the suit, the National Federation for the Blind asked Target to fix the problem politely. What was that problem? According to W3C, “a lack of alternative (alt) text on the site,” missing site headers, etc.

Tip: An accessibility audit can reveal if your site is prone to legal attack. 

[Related: Passion Projected: Deva Pardue on Designing For All Womankind]

ZoomText is magnification and reading program tailored for low-vision users.

2. Accessibility in web design means better SEO.

All that extra alt text pays off. To help them “see” a site, the visually impaired use screen readers. And screen readers—you guessed it—search for text in your code the exact same way that search engines do. So when you create dialogue boxes for the pictures on your page, those boxes also give Google reason to rank you higher. Case in point, 24 hours after implementing its first fully-accessible site, insurance company Legal & General saw a 25% increase in search engine-generated traffic.

Tip: Don’t forget image captioning, video transcription, and semantic html for maximum benefit. Learn about key considerations when designing for people with different kinds of disabilities or impairments here.

Voter with manual dexterity disabilities using touchscreen device.

3. Accessible sites are easier to translate.

Accessibility is known for giving disabled people the same access to the web as everyone else. But W3C best practices don’t just focus on the disabled: They focus on everyone–including the left-handed. When browsing on a phone or tablet, southpaws operate from the opposite direction. So do people whose native language is Arabic or Hebrew. That’s because those languages–and dozens more–read from right to left.

Tip: Design vertically, instead of horizontally, minimizing any right vs left concerns.

Can you see the number in this image? Ensuring that the colors on a website are readable to people with color blindness increases its accessibility and improves its usability.

4. Accessible sites have better UX.

Disabled users are users, so it makes sense that the business cases for accessibility and user experience (UX) overlap. Plain language, additional video, and bullet points (vs long paragraphs) not only make reading your site easier for the dyslexic, but they improve understanding for everyone. And users who understand more buy more. Remember Legal & General? After implementing accessibility, the number of site users requesting a quote doubled in under 3 months.

Tip: Find plain language-specific studies—including one where the Veterans Benefits Administration saved $4.4 million—in Joseph Kimble’s book, Writing for Language, Writing to Please.

These are a few reasons for your boss, but in conclusion, here’s one for you: Accessibility is much easier than it used to be thanks to responsive web design. By moving beyond desktop-only sites, design is trending toward pages with fewer bells and whistles, less text, and quicker loading times. Responsive sites are naturally more accessible (see #4) and also tend to use flat design (see #3).

“To effectively make the business case for accessibility,” Elle Waters, Director of Strategy at Simply Accessible, says, “you really need to know how the organization works. Not all companies have the same culture, so it changes the way you approach the whole discussion.” So at the end of the day, turns out the only person who really knows what it’ll take to make the business case is you.


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