In today’s digital era, a website is the first line of consumer interaction for most businesses or organizations. This results in your website and digital presence acting as a crucial gateway to reach potential customers or users. However, for many brands, even today, when building out their web presence, the importance of digital accessibility is either overlooked or put on the back burner.
An accessible website allows people with disabilities to navigate, read, and interact with your website, even if they use a keyboard or assistive technology like a screen reader to do so.
This article explores the consequences of neglecting accessibility, from leaving out a significant portion of your audience to potential legal ramifications.
We empathize that making your website accessible to people with disabilities requires work. However, building a roadmap and actionable steps to make your website accessible can help you avoid serious financial, legal, and ethical consequences by designing for accessibility.
Let’s dive into what can happen to organizations whose websites (or other digital properties) do not adequately serve people with disabilities.
Financial impact on your business
An inaccessible website can present several financial consequences to the bottom line, which is vital to every business.
About 16% of people worldwide have experienced some form of disability, and about 27% of U.S. adults have a disability.
Suppose your website cannot be accessed by someone with a disability (and those users cannot conduct business as a result).
In that case, your business will likely lose a significant business opportunity by excluding people with disabilities.
When pushing the Return on Accessibility (ROA), we always urge internal champions to ask leadership if leaving out roughly 1/4 of their potential consumers makes good business sense. Of course, the answer is always “no”!
Another essential consideration is transacting, or spending money, in the digital environment. People with a disability tend to have higher rates of business consumption online or through digital properties than the general population.
This is due to generally obvious factors, of course; for example, it is usually far more convenient for a person with a disability to make a purchase from a website than travel/commute to a physical location.
Additionally, with the surge in online ordering and delivery from restaurants and grocery stores, when made accessible, this creates much great access to and ability to spend money on these types of goods and services – when accessible to users living with disabilities.
Risk of legal action
Businesses that do not make their websites accessible to people with disabilities risk being sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act or various state laws, including the Unruh Civil Rights Act in California.
The number of U.S. digital accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court under the ADA rose to over 3,200 cases in 2022 – a 12% increase from 2021 – and has continued to grow yearly for some time.
It is important to note that many high-volume plaintiffs send out hundreds of demand letters each week on top of these lawsuits formally being filed but demand similar fees and actions with the threat of lawsuits for non-compliance.
The reality is, outside of being a nuisance, a potential lawsuit generally costs organizations tens of thousands, if not more, in settlement and legal fees.
A critical consideration to the risk mitigation side of accessibility, which is often ignored, is the simple fact that the means to driving compliance and usability of a website is generally the same whether acting proactively or reacting to a lawsuit.
Therefore, there are substantial risk mitigation and benefits to building a solid legal defense in working proactively through live-user accessibility testing to move your website into compliance.
Many of the high-volume plaintiffs have cookie-cutter demands in settlement agreements at this point. In reality, no accessibility vendor (regardless of their marketing claims) or law firm can prevent a lawsuit.
However, showing good faith effort and proactively building a digital accessibility plan which includes common settlement demands can provide a solid legal defense if or when your organization receives a demand letter or lawsuit.
Impact on brand image
Even when there is no threat of legal action, having a great and highly usable (or inaccessible) website can significantly impact your brand’s perception of people with disabilities.
An accessible website can boost your brand’s reputation by showing that you care and are committed to social responsibility and inclusivity. Satisfied users, disabled or not, are more likely to share their positive experiences, leading to increased word-of-mouth recommendations and organic growth among the disabled population (again, this is 25% of your potential consumer base!).
Research indicates that individuals with disabilities who have a positive encounter with a brand are more likely to become repeat customers and advocate for their experience.
Additionally, an accessible site tends to have better search engine rankings, resulting in higher organic traffic and improved online visibility.
This is why Allyant strongly encourages clients to have a strong accessibility statement on their website and post our Allyant Reviewed By badge in their website’s footer. This displays to visitors and potential consumers that your digital accessibility initiatives include testing by users living with disabilities while also depicting you have an ongoing commitment to equitable digital access.
Accessibility is a Human Right
Digital accessibility has a definite moral component. Businesses have an ethical obligation to their customers (and society as a whole) to be inclusive of all people. By not ensuring digital products are accessible, organizations are not fulfilling that obligation.
Beyond the financial gains outlined above, creating an inclusive online space is a step toward building a more equitable digital landscape. By removing barriers and making information available to everyone, your organization can do its part in contributing to a more inclusive internet while also helping to foster a sense of community and belonging for ALL users.
Organizations should also strongly consider that employees of companies that don’t prioritize digital accessibility may leave organizations if they don’t feel that their employer supports their needs or values inclusion and equitable access as they should.
Importance of digital accessibility
These factors (and others) illustrate the importance of creating accessible digital products. Anyone involved in the design and development process, creation or maintenance of websites and other digital properties should consider accessibility from the beginning rather than after the digital product has been created; at this point, focus can be easily placed on the back burner.
Ensuring digital accessibility may require additional effort, but all benefits are much more significant than ignoring or neglecting it.