A Business Case For Web Accessibility

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Lionel Wolberger is COO of UserWay, a full accessibility solutions provider, and a W3C Accessible Platforms Architect.

In a perfect world, web accessibility and inclusion would be foundational priorities for businesses in the early-stage development of websites, digital content and software. But that is not a reality today. This is no more evident than in the fact that digital accessibility lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are rising drastically and 98% of U.S.-based websites fail to comply with the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Advocacy campaigns and legal remediations have played huge roles in helping create standards. However, there is evidently tons of room for improvement. Regulations and law enforcement provide a measure of influence in wrangling industries and society in a specific direction. Unfortunately, as a whole, threats of litigation and consequences are rarely effective forms of deterrence.

Businesses will apply regulations in the most liberal interpretations that are convenient in order to realize minimal cost impact. Others will do the bare minimum to nominally meet surface-level accessibility expectations and continue to fly under the radar. If these entities do get sued or named in a complaint, they will have skilled legal counsel retained and ready to represent them.

Let’s Talk Money

What has largely been absent in web accessibility promotion strategies and conversations are the profit incentives and ROI available to those who make the big decision to prioritize diversity and choose to provide inclusive experiences for all kinds of users, no matter their ability.

The business case for accessibility includes:

• Increased market reach.

• Diversifying key revenue sources.

• Mitigating litigation risks.

Increased Market Reach

According to the CDC, one out of four adults, or more than 61 million people, live with some sort of disability in the U.S.

A 2016 survey found that 71% of disabled customers who have difficulty accessing your site will leave. Common issues are pages that are crowded with too much content, CAPTCHA tests limiting users from filling out forms and completing orders, and poor navigation. These digital accessibility barriers mean a large portion of potential customers will not be patronizing your site and instead will be going to your competitors. Additionally, a 2019 internet survey observed that 83% of disabled users limit their shopping to sites that have reputable web access features.

If your website meets WCAG standards, search engines will promote your site higher in results, generating more traffic and business overall.

The ‘Purple Dollar’ & Opportunity Costs

It’s not easy nor desirable for clients to patronize your site when they are stopped at the door by inaccessible website features. Ask yourself if your website has the following accommodations:

• Functional with assistive technologies, such as screen readers.

• Aria-live regions used for dynamic features.

• Strong color-contrast design.

• Keyboard-only navigation.

• Descriptive alt-text on all images and products.

There are substantial opportunity costs for companies that opt to forgo implementing these web accessibility features. In the United Kingdom, the purchasing power of people with disabilities is called the “purple pound” and is recognized as a key target audience. The “purple dollar” is just as potent. A 2020 study showed the disposable income of people with disabilities, plus their friends and family, is $13 trillion. And according to a report by Accenture, the top 45 “Accessibility Champions” from the Disability Equality Index enjoy 28% more revenue, two times more net income and a 30% improved performance in profit margins over other businesses.

Investing in website functionality also means increased operational efficiency. The e-commerce business represents the lowest costs for acquisition and per-unit transactional costs, meaning each dollar earned online carries a higher margin of profit and lower level of liability.

The Cost Of Litigation

ADA Title III claims hit a record number in 2021 with 11,452 federal lawsuits filed. A staggering 2,500 of the Title III lawsuits in 2020 involved inaccessible digital content on websites. Not only will litigation cost your company, if it is subject to ADA complaints, but your company can be sued for the same deficiencies multiple times, meaning compliance and remediation for web accessibility problems need to be done quickly and correctly.

A report from 2020 estimated that 265,000 web accessibility demand letters were delivered to businesses—an estimated 64% increase in items sent from the year before. Settling these complaints means defendants are responsible for their defense counsel, the plaintiff’s legal fees and the costs involved in corrective action. Conservative estimates put the cost of settling these claims between $10,000 and $25,000. If half of these lawsuits resulted in a settlement, this represents collective costs of more than $1.325 billion for these lawsuits.

Again, settling these lawsuits does not provide future protection from subsequent lawsuits. If these lawsuits are litigated through an entire trial process, the cost will be much larger.

Rethinking Website Accessibility

It’s time to make digital assets barrier-free for people with disabilities and discover the necessity of having compliant digital assets—before learning this lesson the hard way. There are real bottom-line benefits inherent in a diverse and inclusive workplace and society.


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