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Digital accessibility is the ability of a website or mobile application to be easily used and understood by a wide range of users, including those with disabilities. These disabilities can include everything from visual and hearing impairments to motor and cognitive impairments. In 2016, 61 million American adults reported having some sort of disability, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paper ("Prevalence of Disabilities and Health Care Access by Disability Status and Type Among Adults").
Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act have ensured that our physical world is easier to navigate for those who are differently abled—think lower sidewalks or crosswalks that verbally instruct pedestrians when it is safe to walk—but digital spaces are often a gray area. In the business world, there's long been a myth that increasing digital accessibility provides little to no benefit for a company, outside of making it easier for those with disabilities to navigate the platform. That myth is blatantly false.
Stacker has rounded up 10 ways that businesses benefit by increasing their digital accessibility. Using data from authoritative news and industry reports on web accessibility, we've highlighted how accessibility can do everything from increasing bottom lines to helping companies avoid lawsuits. A study published in a 2005 issue of the journal Behavioral Sciences & the Law examined diversity and disability policies at the 2003 list of Fortune 100 companies: 42% of the companies had diversity policies set in place that included people with disabilities.
A company's policies surrounding disabilities may seek not only to include differently abled people in the workforce, but also to ensure that all of a company's products are accessible to those with disabilities. In July 2017, Thomson Reuters (now Refinitiv), launched the Diversity and Inclusion Index, ranking the 100 top-listed public companies by diversity and inclusivity. Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing—a term only invented in 2005 in a study called “Who Cares Wins”—is on the rise. Some of the most successful companies in the world are working toward being more inclusive and seeing their profits and public perception grow as a result.
Read on to discover 10 ways in which digital accessibility makes good business sense.
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2/ National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution // Wikimedia Commons
The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, requires that people with disabilities have equal access to public services. While the law doesn't speak directly to internet access, it's broad enough that cases can be brought against companies who don't ensure that their websites and applications are accessible to all. And website accessibility lawsuits are on the rise: 2,258 were filed in 2018 compared to 814 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility.
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According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 American adults has a disability. Businesses who aren't making their websites and apps accessible are, therefore, missing out on nearly 25% of their potential market.
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Brands who focus on digital accessibility tend to be those who are also incredibly innovative. For example, an early version of the typewriter was developed by Italian Agostino Fantoni in order to help his blind sister write independently. Brands who work to focus on accessible design, which is by nature incredibly flexible, could also come up with the next big trend or technological development.
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Websites and apps that are designed with accessibility in mind tend to be designed with cleaner code, according to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility. The cleaner code is the less likely it is to break, the faster it tends to load, and the more likely it is to render as intended. This means less time and manpower is spent fixing the code, and the more likely consumers are to choose your website over that of a competitor.
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When a product or website is usable, it is both effective and efficient with great user experience design. When digital products are designed to be accessible, usability often increases by default, according to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative. And the more usable a product is, the more likely it is that users will respond positively.
Consumers have begun to expect that the brands they are loyal to share their personal values. In fact, consulting company Accenture Strategy found 62% of global consumers want their favorite brands to take a stand on issues that matter. Brands who are vocal about their commitment to digital accessibility and who are actively striving to make their content more accessible are likely to create positive PR and increase consumers' loyalty to their brand.
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The global estimate of the disability market is that it includes 2.3 billion people with $6.9 trillion in disposable income, annually. Companies who are focusing on digital accessibility, whether that means ensuring people of all abilities can purchase their products online or making sure that their app is usable by everyone, have a better chance of capturing a larger share of the market.
The more accessible a website is the better the search engine optimization. Search engines are primarily text-based, so websites that provide captions and transcripts for their audio and video content increase the amount of text that can be indexed by these search engines, which in turn increases the chances of casual web browsers being directed to your website for answers to their queries.
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Many people with motor disabilities prefer to use the internet on a mobile device like a smartphone, as they don't have to deal with the difficulties a mouse can present. People in general, it seems, prefer mobile browsing—in 2018, 52.2% of website visits worldwide were from mobile devices. Companies who seek to increase their accessibility by concentrating on making a mobile-first website (a website which runs seamlessly and effectively on a smartphone) will also benefit by drawing in this other traffic.
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Digital accessibility can save companies money. Whether it's saving on legal cases, not needing to create different versions of the same site for various devices, or not having to pay compliance fines, businesses who focus on digital accessibility can wind up saving thousands, if not millions, of dollars in the long run.