Digital Accessibility is Vital for the Future of Business, Including Yours

11/06/2020

By Lily Clark

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11/06/2020

By Lily Clark

Our daily lives don’t just take place in the physical world anymore — they continue into an all-encompassing, multifaceted digital world, as well. The majority of society has embraced digital access and digital devices, integrating them with the tasks and activities we do throughout our day.

Without thinking twice, we rely on the internet in almost every aspect of our lives: we purchase groceries, go to school and work, pay our bills, and entertain ourselves through digital means. Even simply finding information is just a quick Google search away.

Naturally, all people need to address these increasingly digital tasks — both those with and without disabilities. Having a disability doesn’t mean that everyday life simply stops. 

So, naturally, accessibility shouldn’t stop there either.

The essential role that the internet plays in our lives today means that accessibility must also be included in the digital world. True accessibility is ensuring the ease and actionable components of all spaces — physical and digital, business and personal.

For a business, that means having a phone number to contact or a physical location to visit is no longer satisfactory. Businesses must make sure that their websites and apps are just as accessible to people with disabilities as they are to those without.

It is essential for businesses to incorporate digital accessibility into their practices — and, fortunately, it can be highly beneficial, as well.

If you’re a company that is struggling to reach a broader audience, digital accessibility will help. Want to connect and relate to your audience, increasing the trust and value of your brand? Digital accessibility is the answer. Even if you’re a little strapped for cash as a company and can’t afford for anything to go wrong, digital accessibility is the right direction.

Why does digital accessibility matter so much to businesses? Read on to find out more, including why your company should embrace and incorporate it now.

Digital Accessibility Supports Business

It’s no secret that digital transactions and consumption have been on the rise for years. Companies have either reaped the (very profitable) rewards for incorporating digital trends into their business model, or have been spurred into action to keep up with their competitors in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy or a significant loss in profits.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only sped up that transition, with the lasting effects of the coronavirus expected to solidify digital spending and shopping trends. In fact, ecommerce transactions alone are expected to hit $6.5 trillion annually in the U.S. by 2023.

All of the research so far is pointing to one main consensus: Ecommerce and digital shopping trends have officially changed how consumers purchase products, and those trends are here to stay. The normal consumer experience has gone digital.

What does that mean for a business in regards to digital accessibility?

Ensuring that your business’s website and applications are digitally accessible will capitalize on the digital spending and ecommerce trends, helping you to keep your market reach as wide as possible and enabling you to stay up-to-date with competitors. If your company is struggling to reach a broader audience (or simply wants to reach a broader audience), making your products, services, and information accessible to all people will help you tap into a brand new segment of the market. People with disabilities are a market in and of themselves, and if they are included through a website with accessible design, their transactions could become your profits. In the US, for example, the annual discretionary spending of people with disabilities is over $200 billion.

The global market? $7 trillion.

But it’s not possible to increase your profits through that market unless your company’s website is accessible to its consumers in the first place.

Another profitable result of becoming digitally accessible? It will enhance your brand, promoting the public’s perception that you’re a “good” company with a strong commitment to social responsibility causes.

By and large, the consumers of today want brands to make a difference and take a stand, and they show their support for the brands that follow through.

If you’re wanting to be a relatable company that connects with your audience and is viewed as a trustworthy brand, socially conscious consumers are a segment of the market worth targeting. Socially conscious consumers make up a considerably large portion of society with substantial buying power. Exactly how large? Here are a few quick stats:

  • 78% of Americans believe companies must do more than just make money; they must positively impact society as well.
  • 64% of consumers around the world want the brands they purchase from to be vocal about social issues in general.
  • 77% of consumers around the world will buy from brands that share their same values.
  • While a small portion of consumers, it’s still fascinating to note that 13% of American consumers would pay a whopping 31-50% more for a business’s products or services if they were under the impression that your business is making a positive impact on the world.

Promoting digital accessibility — an ethical and moral step toward true equality and inclusion — is undeniably a social cause worth supporting.

All in all, what would supporting digital accessibility mean?

Becoming a digitally accessible business would not only help you reach more customers with disabilities, it would also support and increase your reach with non-disabled customers, as well.

Disabled Users are a Large Part of Society -- and They Deserve to be Equally Valued

The disabled community is large–possibly much larger than you think. Roughly 61 million American adults — or 1 in 4 people — have some form of disability. That’s 25% of your potential customers who may not be able to access information about your company, its products, or complete a successful transaction. That is too large a piece of the population to simply sweep under the rug and say their experiences are “good enough as it is.”

Even further, most citizens in countries with a life expectancy over 70 typically spend over 11% of their lives with a disability of some sort, even if they don’t view themselves as “disabled.”

Common types of disabilities that prevent users from navigating and utilizing non-accessible websites include impairments of:

  • Mobility
  • Cognition
  • Vision
  • Hearing

While the examples above are 4 types of common disabilities, they are not the only types. From there, each general type of disability can be broken down into a variety of specific conditions, with specific devices and tools available to help those people go through their lives with as few barriers as possible.

Many people with disabilities use assistive technology software and devices to help them accomplish regular daily tasks, including using the internet. Devices like screen readers will read content aloud, which is helpful to users with vision or cognitive impairments. Speech recognition software will allow the user to speak commands or questions instead of typing, which is helpful for users with mobility impairments. Even the use of subtitles, captions, or sign language translation is invaluable to a user who is deaf.

Unfortunately, simply using the devices themselves does not solve the problem.

If a website or application isn’t accessible in the first place, assistive devices won’t work — becoming a moot point when someone is trying to go about their lives with the same tools, information, and opportunities as users without disabilities. In the time of the Covid-19 pandemic particularly, this can affect users with disabilities who are trying to stay safe at home, especially since people with disabilities are more likely to have other health problems as well.

The truth is, though — the size of the disabled community shouldn’t be the deciding factor. By default, a company is in the field of business and should have the professionalism to match. Promoting and supporting people with disabilities is a necessary step for true inclusion and equality, and should be cause enough to have digitally accessible spaces.

It’s crucial to recognize the difficulty some users have in navigating online spaces. As a society, we should consistently aim for better inclusive, accessible, and equal content. Yes, incorporating digital accessibility will help increase market reach, profitability, and a positive brand image — but supporting content and other humans is an important and worthwhile cause on its own. Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do.

In black and white terms:

Including people with disabilities in your digital spaces will show that your business respects and values its users and wants to promote equal access and true inclusion.

Excluding people with disabilities not only means a loss in potential profits, but will promote the idea that not all users need the same content, that they aren’t worth investing your time and resources in, and that they don’t need to be afforded equal treatment… which is a little too eerily close to discrimination.

And, unfortunately, that isn’t too far off the mark.

Digital Accessibility is a Serious Issue with Very Real -- and Very Legal -- Repercussions

If you’re skeptical about the cost of becoming digitally accessible versus the potential benefits your company will receive, rest assured — it’s worth it. When it comes to financial risk versus reward, it’s important to bring up the threat of litigation that businesses face in regards to digital accessibility, or a lack thereof.

Ultimately, dismissing digital accessibility will put you at risk for expensive litigation.

The legal repercussions of not being digitally accessible are very serious, and are gradually growing in widespread recognition and consistency. In the United States, federal and state discrimination law is increasingly being interpreted to include digital spaces. In 2019, the Robles vs. Domino’s Pizza lawsuit even made it all the way to the Supreme Court — and the Supreme Court’s decision was in favor of Robles and digital accessibility.

This year, we are seeing a decrease in the number of federal lawsuits and an increase in state lawsuits with a large majority coming specifically from New York, Florida, and California. All lawsuits, however, are consistently on the basis of noncompliance and discrimination against users with disabilities.

It is also crucial to note that although the majority of lawsuits (at the moment) are coming from individual states themselves, state lines do not necessarily protect a business from litigation. If a business makes money from users in a specific state — like California, for example — the physical location of the company doesn’t matter; that state is able to sue you for noncompliance and discrimination, in accordance with federal and/or state laws. There is no protection from being sued solely due to a company’s physical address.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between common US laws and regulations regarding digital accessibility:

  • ADAThe Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990. This federal law prohibits all discrimination against people who have disabilities. Title III specifically concerns “Public Accommodations.” While the ADA does not explicitly state whether it does or does not apply to digital spaces, Title III is now frequently being interpreted to include websites and applications as part of the public domain/public service, which is why we’re seeing a rise in digital accessibility lawsuits.
  • The Unruh ActA law in the state of California, passed in 1959. Similar to the ADA, it protects people specifically from business discrimination and includes a variety of characteristics, including disability. It affects all for-profit businesses — not solely one type — and covers intentional and unintentional discrimination alike. All ADA violations are automatically in violation with the Unruh Act. Unruh Act violations can be very expensive, reaching up to $4,000 per accessibility issue. One of the most important aspects to note about the Unruh Act is that it is consistently being applied to digital accessibility cases — and since websites are typically accessed in multiple states, doing business in California is enough to be subjected to the Unruh Act even if your company doesn’t have a physical location in California itself. Doing business within the state will subject you to both the ADA and the Unruh Act, doubling your exposure to potential litigation.  
  • Section 508A specific section in the Rehabilitation Act, passed in 1973. This law ensures that all federal agencies, departments, and entities make their electronic communications and IT technology accessible to all people with disabilities. In 2018, Section 508 got a refresh — specifically to include requirements for online accessibility. The requirements to follow are called the WCAG, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. They now serve as the threshold for digital accessibility compliance for Section 508, and a recommended standard for best practice with the ADA. Section 508 only applies to federal government agencies and businesses.

Digital accessibility is becoming increasingly important with regards to equality and civic duty, to the point where being in noncompliance can be viewed as an act of discrimination. Now more than ever, it’s increasingly important to address digital accessibility within individual companies.

From a business perspective, your company will pay far less to become compliant than it will in potential legal fees alone from noncompliance, not including the cost of the immediate action and remediation you’ll have to take anyway. If your company doesn’t have a lot of extra spending money, you can’t afford for something to go wrong.

From a personal perspective, even if you don’t find digital accessibility personally important or high on the to-do list — others do. And they can sue you and your company for it.

The cost of remediating a website varies depending on which company and service you find — but regardless of the company, it will cost substantially less to pay for remediation (and then subsequently have a higher profitability to boot) than having to pay for a whole litigation case due to noncompliance. Hands down.

A quick settlement for a digital accessibility lawsuit can be extremely expensive, even if it’s simple. The settlement alone doesn’t cover the cost of actually fixing the accessibility issues, making the true cost go up even further. The cost of a lawsuit can vary depending on the number of individual complaints or issues along with the exorbitant cost of hiring a legal defense team, so settlement costs can vary tremendously.

Depending on the number of accessibility infractions and various legal fees, total ADA lawsuit costs can potentially reach up to $1 million.

Guaranteed, remediating your website with any accessibility company will cost your business significantly less than a settlement.

The Only Accessible Solution

When you consider the fiscal, marketing, social, and legal opportunities that digital accessibility provides, it’s clear that the best step for a business to take is to make all websites and applications digitally accessible.

As you search for the best way to achieve that goal, you may notice that there are a variety of products, services, and software on the market that claim to solve your company’s digital accessibility issues. It is tremendously important to understand the results they provide.

It’s all too easy to find a product that claims the lofty and too-good-to-be-true result of immediate, total accessibility — particularly after downloading a certain software. Regardless of what that software or product is, we have to tell you one simple truth:

There is currently no software or product on the market that can catch every single accessibility issue and immediately resolve them.

In fact, automated software alone typically only helps resolve about 25-30% of all accessibility issues. While definitely a start and better than nothing, that’s still not much — and not nearly enough to help users navigate sites through assistive technology or truly protect businesses from litigation.

The best solution, and the only one that will make your website truly accessible, is to go through a full remediation process that follows the WCAG and results in a certification of digital accessibility — a specialization of Online ADA. This will guarantee that at a specific point and time, your entire website was compliant according to the recommended guidelines.

To be clear: remediation isn’t a temporary band-aid, nor is it a quick overnight fix — it is a process that, when done correctly, will involve both human auditors and automated software to go through a website or application, pinpoint all of the accessibility issues, and then fully remediate them. It is imperative to start the remediation process as soon as possible considering that while the usual time frame varies, the process definitely takes a little longer than an immediate download. And while it is a longer process, it’s the only way to achieve the highest accessibility results possible.

At the end of the day, achieving the highest level of digital accessibility possible is what will drive your results in all forms — profits, litigation protection, and equal access/inclusion.

To ensure continued compliance as your website changes and updates, maintaining your digital accessibility will be key. Digital accessibility is a moving target — an ongoing process in which you consistently have to strive to meet the changing and improving standards.

Online ADA offers the best solution to digital accessibility: in-depth, thorough, and accurate remediation powered by both AI technology software and human auditing professionals. Through Online ADA’s certification process, we will audit a company’s website up to 3 full, separate times in order to catch any and all accessibility issues. We work with your specific company to craft an accessibility statement that announces your dedication to equal access and commitment to continued digital accessibility. In addition to the remediation, we also offer Ongoing Certification Management to truly maintain and keep on top of your website’s accessibility.

Why trust Online ADA’s certification process?

  • We’re members of the W3C, the board that wrote the WCAG that have been accepted as the universal accessibility guidelines across the globe.
  • We’re also members of the IAAP, or the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.
  • We’re a global leader in digital accessibility, and have years of experience working with companies large and small — all while supporting digital accessibility and advocating for equal access and inclusion for all users.
  • We not only work to remediate accessibility issues for other companies — we also cheer on, support, and teach companies about digital accessibility and how to fix it, too.

Don't Dismiss the Benefits and Implications -- Book your Strategy Call Today

Digital accessibility is not a problem to keep for tomorrow — you need to address your accessibility issues as soon as possible. Contact us to start the certification process today.

Consumers are shifting more and more rapidly to a digital lifestyle. They live, breathe, and purchase online. Companies need to follow them to those spaces, and include all web users in that process.

With the remediation process, getting certified and providing an accessibility statement will show others the value and attention you place on consistently striving for better access and support for all users. Becoming certified with Online ADA will give you an official logoed certification icon that you can put on your website to state that you were independently certified by a third party. Our accessibility experts will also help you establish an official Accessibility Statement to include on your website, detailing the value and emphasis you put on accessibility for all and showing your continuous goal to strive for excellence and inclusion.

Ultimately, equal access for all users should be enough cause to take action. People with disabilities should not have to struggle to obtain the same information that non-disabled people can access with ease. They should be afforded the same amount of access — and the same amount of value and respect.

Acting now and starting the digital accessibility remediation process will ensure a variety of results:

  1. Your business will be able to reach, address, and engage with a broader audience, maximizing your profitability.
  2. You will gain additional value and trust from consumers who are proud to support your socially-conscious brand.
  3. You will protect yourself from expensive and time consuming litigation.
  4. Most importantly of all…you will be taking a stand and showing support for all web users and their right to equal access and digital inclusion.

Our lives are increasingly going digital.

Contact us to speak with one of our accessibility experts today.

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The Author

Lily Clark

Lily Clark