- 16% of the UK population have a disability and they have a combined spending power in excess of £212 billion
- Does your website cater to their needs?
- How much revenue are you losing if your site isn’t accessible to this 10 million audience?
- You could also be breaking the law if your website isn’t accessible.
Globally there are an estimated 650 million people who live with one form of disability or another. More than 10 million of those reside in the UK alone with a combined annual spending power in excess of £212 billion1 and a disposable income of £80 billion.2 A further 54 million in the USA with a disposable spending power of $220 billion.1
And, in the UK, research has been launched to discover how much revenue UK businesses are losing due to customers with disabilities finding their websites inaccessible.3 We eagerly await the results.
Whether it is a visual, auditory, learning, cognitive or physical impairment, all of these people should have the freedom to access the Internet and be able to use websites as easily as everyone else despite any barriers they may face or the technology they may be using to do so.
Consider also the number of people who do not have a disability right now; in an aging population, the likelihood of an age-related disability increases substantially.
All of these issues could impact your revenue, so ignore them and you’ll be leaving money on the table.
We all age
Here is a personal example. For 38 years I have never had to wear glasses; I’ve had perfect 20/20 vision for every eye test I have ever had. But now I can’t look at a computer screen for more than 30 minutes without getting double vision.
It’s not because of something ghastly has happened to me. It’s because my eye muscles are getting old. And with age, stuff starts to break—but not my need to access information on the Internet, indeed it is my daily bread and butter.
And as I type this article in Word zoomed at 200%, I have to admit aging and its side effects are inevitable, so we shouldn’t be ignoring its potential consequences.
For example, in the UK over the last 25 years there has been an increase of 1.5 million people aged 65 and over. By 2033, 23% of the population will be aged 65 or over and 5% will be aged 85 and older.
When you consider the number or younger people aged 16 and under is a decreasing demographic, you quickly realise that unless you cater to those users with a disability (or those who potentially in the future may have a disability) you will be losing revenue.
But it’s not just about the money, is it?
No, it really isn’t. All companies should have a moral obligation to ensure that their websites can be readily accessed by people with disabilities. I am an eternal optimist and it is my belief that surely we are at a stage in human evolution whereby we do not actively discriminate against anyone—if it is within our power to eliminate the problem then quite frankly, that is what we should be doing.
And with digital discrimination there really is NO excuse; we are dealing with source code to fix the problem, not brains, personalities, egos, and the psychology-related stuff that goes with it. Software is way easier to fix than humans.
But, let me get off my soap box for a minute about morality—there may be a more important reason why you ensure your website is accessible. It’s a legal one, so best to read on.
Your legal obligation
More and more countries have been actively creating legislation that stipulates accessible website content is a legal requirement, or have laws that rule out discrimination based around disability.
Canada is a leading example with several legislations including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), Accessibility 2024 and Common Look and Feel (CLF 2.0)—and it’s not alone.
The UK, USA, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, and Australia all have their own specific laws, and the European Union Parliament passed a law in 2014 that requires all public sector websites, and private sector websites that provide key public services to be accessible.
Just think about the legal implications for this in a global e-commerce market and how they relate to your business. Are you breaking the law somewhere in the world? Possibly… I’m not a lawyer, but it would be my strong advice to seek professional advice and find out, otherwise you may be open to lawsuits.
Netflix, Disney, NBA are but a few big names that have found themselves in hot water about inaccessible website content. And don’t assume small companies are getting away with it either, because they’re not.
So, what’s the deal?
We’ve talked about some of the types of impairment people may have, but let me elaborate briefly here so you can understand some of the difficulties these users may face when accessing online content.
Now look at the following list and take a step outside the disability box.
How many of the barriers mentioned above could you apply to someone who is not permanently disabled but for one reason or another may be considered as temporarily disabled because they are in a given situation?
Let’s think about Joe for a minute. Joe is walking around a typically noisy London on a bright sunny day. He only has GPRS connection on his smart phone and due to an unfortunate incident with a hammer, three of the fingers on his dominant hand have swollen up. Joe doesn’t consider himself to have a disability, but given this situation he is dealing with the same barriers as a person with a disability might encounter when accessing website content. Why? The clues are in the story:
- Noisy London (deaf/hearing impairment—can’t hear audio on a video)
- Sunny day (low vision/contrast while looking at his phone screen)
- GPRS connection (visual impairment—images may not load)
- Swollen fingers (poor dexterity—tapping on elements of a web page).
So you can see that if we make website content accessible for users with disabilities, we may ultimately be making it more accessible for everyone—this is known as the Curb Cut Effect (or Kerb Cuts in the UK).
Ok, I’m paying attention—but where do I start?
The best way to have your site checked for accessibility is to commission an Accessibility Audit. This can vary from an informal review to a detailed analysis. It can also include user testing with users of assistive technology to provide real-world feedback.
Audits are usually performed using a combination of automated software (such as Achecker) and manual testing. More often than not the results of an automated test will require close examination by a professional auditor who can review any issues raised to ensure they are applicable and provide suggestions to rectify them.
As with any software development, the best practice is to ensure that accessibility is built in as a fundamental standard when creating code. But this does not mean retrofitting accessible techniques and considerations to existing sites are impossible or difficult, far from it. Many of the common accessibility issues flagged are easy to rectify, such as providing alternative text for images, and will greatly improve your site accessibility.
It is also fortunate that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created a set of guidelines (known as WCAG 2.0) to help develop accessible sites.
The guidelines are being adopted by more and more countries as the defining standard to develop to which will ensure website content is accessible and meet any legal requirements set out by that country. Websites are assessed against a number of success criteria outlined in the guidelines—the level of compliance to which will determine if a site has reached Level A, AA, or AAA compliance, with AAA being the very best it can be given current technology and understanding.
Is it worth it?
As discussed, hopefully your customers of today will be your customers of tomorrow, and the year after that, and the year after that, etc. So, yes it is worth it.
By ensuring your content remains accessible to them you will retain your customer base even if their way of accessing your content changes. Your customers of today will also benefit if their current way of accessing your content changes. And, you will make it easier for potential new customers who use assistive technology to access your content, buy your products, access your services.
You’ll also make it easier for ANY potential customer to find your website because search engines will be able to index your site more easily and favourably. And, once they find your website they will be able to understand and negotiate your site content easily which will lead to better conversions.
Creating an accessible website could also save you money because accessibility takes advantage of advanced web technologies and prepares you for future web technologies. If implemented correctly accessible solutions can also reduce site maintenance and development times, reduce the load on your server, and the bandwidth you use.
Making your website accessible can also positively increase the public image and trust of your brand, as well as ensure you conform to country-specific legal requirements and fulfill your social responsibility to not digitally discriminate. Commercially it makes perfect sense to make your website accessible because it can make you more money.
2 Why is the disabled pound purple? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-25812302
3 Click-Away Pound survey, http://www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/about-us/news/research-launched-to-discover-how-much-revenue-uk-businesses-are-losing-as-disabled-customers-click-away-from-inaccessib/