Global Accessibility Awareness Day comes each May as a reminder to keep all users in mind when designing digital experiences like mobile apps and websites. And while much of the attention on digital accessibility is paid to lawsuits and the costs of non-compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses should remember that the point of digital accessibility, much like physical accessibility measures like wheelchair ramps, designated parking and Braille touchpads, is to provide a usable and enjoyable experience to every person, regardless of ability.
It’s a point that Holly Scott-Gardner, a blind person and a disability rights advocate, recently raised in this article in NBC News. Speaking on how framing digital accessibility in the context of avoiding lawsuits can be damaging, Scott-Gardner said:
“It capitalizes on this fear that disabled people are out there to sue you and make your life difficult …. It furthers this really horrible view of disabled people that we’re literally out there to get money and that we just use our disabilities for that.”
Improvements in Digital Accessibility Awareness, But Work Remains
The importance of digital accessibility cannot be understated. Fifteen percent of the world’s population (~1.3 billion people) live with some form of disability, and the annual disposable income of the global population of persons with disabilities is approximately $1.2 trillion. (There also needs to be consideration for those that have a temporary disability like a broken arm or even those who have lost their glasses). The entire world has seen their reliance on digital assets grow as the COVID-19 pandemic forced consumers to change their shopping habits and move to more online preferences, and the same can be said for those with disabilities.
Luckily, it seems that businesses have recognized the impact of the pandemic on persons with disabilities and have looked to make digital accessibility more of a priority as a result. That’s according to a market research survey that my company, Applause, ran in early May 2021.
The global survey of more than 1,800 engineering, QA, product, DevOps, marketing, CX/UX and legal professionals found that over 68% of respondents said their company is prioritizing digital accessibility now more than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That percentage becomes even larger when looking at larger companies (with 1,000+ employees), with 73.5% saying digital accessibility is now a bigger priority for them.
This increased awareness of digital accessibility throughout an organization is encouraging. However, according to the survey respondents, there is still a lot of progress left to be made. In fact, over half (57.4%) of the engineers who responded to the survey said that they only sometimes, rarely or never write code with accessibility in mind. Not only can that impact the overall accessibility and usability of a website or mobile app, but it can cost businesses in the long run as fixing accessibility issues after the fact is much more time-consuming and expensive than building the code the right way at the outset.
While engineers admittedly still have work to do, there is good news on the product front – more than three-quarters of product managers say they are working accessibility into their design plans at the earliest stages of development, which is a critical step in building inclusive experiences. Similarly UX researchers are increasingly including people with disabilities in usability testing and gathering user feedback that is in turn used to improve the experience, often for everyone’s benefit.
Related Article: W3C Publishes Working Draft of New Accessibility Guidelines
Digital Accessibility: An Opportunity, Not an Obligation
Clearly, there is still a long way to go, but it is encouraging to see more businesses are paying attention to the needs of all their users and are actively looking to improve digital accessibility. Ultimately, accessibility is for everyone and it should not be framed solely as a means of avoiding litigation. As Forrester’s Gina Bhawalkar wrote in her May 2021 research, Q&A: Getting Started with Digital Accessibility, “accessibility really takes hold in an organization when it is framed as an opportunity, not a legal obligation.”
Inge has been designing and testing web, mobile, voice and multi-channel experiences for more than 20 years. She builds and leads UX teams and evangelizes customer experience principles throughout organizations.