Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which was established by the UN in 1972 to promote “the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development”. When the topic of accessibility comes up, people often think about issues of physical accessibility – like sidewalk ramps and elevators. However – the rise of digital technology, as well as our increasing use of screens, have brought new accessibility challenges to the fore.
So today, we’re going to talk about digital accessibility. What is it, and why is it important for businesses to invest in making sure their software, websites, apps, and other online services are fully accessible?
What is digital accessibility?
In the past few decades, the internet has revolutionized the way we live our lives – so much so that the United Nations has declared access to the internet to be a basic human right. We live more of our lives digitally than ever before. So, put in its simplest terms, digital accessibility is simply making sure that everyone – including people with disabilities – can have access to the internet and digital technology.
Some businesses are reluctant to prioritize investment in accessibility, arguing that the ROI for accessibility investments is too difficult to measure. However, this kind of thinking ignores the fact that digital accessibility is rapidly becoming something businesses can’t afford to ignore.
According to Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility for Barclays, “Many organisations are waking up to the fact that embracing accessibility leads to multiple benefits – reducing legal risks, strengthening brand presence, improving customer experience and colleague productivity.”
Why is digital accessibility so important?
1. It’s the law
Because of the growing importance of digital technology in our every-day lives, legislative protections are increasingly being put in place to ensure that everyone has equal access. These legislative protections include:
- The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities: a human rights document passed by the United Nations General Assembly, which was ratified by more than 175 countries just this year.
- The European Accessibility Act: passed by the European Union, this law requires digital accessibility for such things as ATMs, PCs, phones, televisions, telephony and audiovisual services, transport, e-books, and eCommerce.
Accessibility protections are a bit murkier in the United States, as there is currently no law specifically requiring digital accessibility. However, there are a growing number of cases in which courts are using the Americans With Disabilities Act to rule in favor of equal digital access – which is acting as a growing pressure on American companies to meet accessibility requirements in order to avoid the threat of litigation.
2. Disabled people are a really big market
The population of people with disabilities is very large, and one that is growing quickly as the global population ages. In the United States alone, annual discretionary spending by people with disabilities is estimated to be more than $200 billion. That number jumps to $7 trillion in yearly spending by disabled people when you look at the global population.
Some other facts to consider:
- 324 million people, or 1 in every 22 people, experience partial or total visual impairment
- More than 1 billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, have a disability
- This number does not include many people who acquire disabilities through aging but do not self-identify as a “person with a disability”
- In countries with an average life expectancy of more than 70, people spend on average 11.5% of their total lifespan living with a disability
That’s a lot of people! You wouldn’t tell fifteen percent of your potential customers that you didn’t care about your business. And yet, that’s what many businesses are doing when they fail to invest in digital accessibility. This is doubly impactful given that, perhaps due to the challenges they experience, are more likely to engage in online shopping than the average person.
3. Being accessible improves perception of your brand
There continues to be a generational shift in what consumers desire from brands. Millennials, the oldest of whom are now 37, continue to gain in purchasing power, and their priorities are very different from previous generations. Contrary to their reputation of being ‘selfish’ and ‘entitled’, Millennials are the most socially-conscious generation – giving to charity at higher rates than Boomers and Gen Xers. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Millennials are attracted to brands that demonstrate genuine and authentic commitment to corporate social responsibility.
A 2017 Cone Communications survey showed that 87% of Americans will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. Additionally, Millennials value authenticity, and are more likely than people from other generations to research the issues a company supports and their history of supporting those issues.
Taking the effort to make digital accessibility a priority goes a long way toward establishing yourself as an inclusive brand, which will enhance your reputation and drive customer loyalty.
4. Being accessible benefits your company
There have been a number of studies showing that accessibility benefits companies just as much as it benefits consumers. The first, and perhaps most surprising, benefit is that companies that prioritize accessibility are more innovative. A study of Fortune 100 companies showed that disability inclusion – when included as part of a diversity strategy – is common practice among high-performing businesses.
Additionally, a pattern that has emerged in the last two decades is that accessible design means staying ahead of the technology curve. Accessible design often puts you in the right place at the right time when it comes to implementing new technology. A prime example of this can be seen with the transition from desktop to mobile browsing in the early 2000’s. Websites that were compliant with accessibility standards were much more mobile-ready, as they didn’t require mouse input.
Lastly – there is evidence to show that companies that incorporate accessibility into their design see efficiency benefits for their organization. A Forrester Research Economic Impact Study commissioned by Microsoft showed that accessibility can deliver cost savings when it is integrated into ongoing development cycles.
5. Accessibility benefits all users, not just disabled users
We have continually seen features initially designed for disabled users become widely adopted by non-disabled users. One reason for this is that at its heart, digitally accessible design is more flexible, allowing content to be rendered across a wide variety of screens, platforms, and devices.
Some of the biggest ways we have seen accessible features adopted by non-disabled users include:
- Minimum contrast standards, which assist people with low vision, help all users to see content more clearly on mobile devices while in situations with glare from bright light
- Auto-complete was originally created to assist people with disabilities, and is now a standard feature across most mobile operating systems
- Similarly, voice control was initially designed to assist users with physical impairments. But now we are seeing the rise of voice assistants like Google Home and Alexa, because of the convenience they provide to users.
Put another way, digital accessibility is required for users with disabilities to use your product or service, but it also benefits everyone who uses your service – regardless of their level of ability. And because of the additional convenience benefits that digital accessibility frequently delivers, your customers will love you for it.
ITC is proud to design with accessibility in mind
Of course, we wouldn’t be making these recommendations if this wasn’t something we believed in ourselves. Our digital customer engagement platform is designed to be fully accessible, so that users of any ability level can use it to provide excellent customer service over any channel.