In today’s digital world, ignoring the accessibility of your website all but guarantees losing customers to your competition, and can even open your business up to potential legal action.
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Web accessibility and ensuring your content can be consumed by all people, is one of the most important issues facing online businesses today. Yet still, it remains surprisingly under the radar amongst many brands, particularly with SMBs. Because of this, many small business owners don’t fully understand what the term actually means.
No, web accessibility doesn’t mean ensuring that everyone has access to the Internet (though that’s an important issue, too). Web accessibility refers to ensuring that all online content can be readily consumed by people with disabilities.
Established brick and mortar companies generally command a firm understanding of how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) affects their business operations. But for online companies, the needs of those with disabilities are often overlooked.
However, times are changing and online businesses have a greater responsibility than ever to prioritize their website accessibility.
The Risk Of An ADA Lawsuit
The ADA is a civil rights law, meaning all areas that are open to the public must make adequate accommodations for those with disabilities. Facilities that fail to comply with these regulations open themselves up to serious potential legal consequences.
With the digital world playing an increasingly important role in our modern lives, the Department of Justice has recently made statements to the effect that the ADA also applies to websites. When companies essentially deny equal access because their website is incompatible with a screen reader—or has other accessibility issues, the companies also become vulnerable to lawsuits.
Domino’s has recently made headlines because of its decision to fight a lawsuit that was filed after a blind man was unable to order pizza, because its website wouldn’t work with a standard screen reader. Domino’s efforts to fight the lawsuit have thus far only resulted in negative PR attention for the brand.
As Gale Vizel, CMO at accessiBe, an AI-powered accessibility platform, recently shared with me, “Domino’s may be getting most of the press coverage for their lack of site accessibility, but many SMBs are also at risk of litigation if their sites aren’t properly accessible. Web accessibility lawsuits went up by 183% from 2017 to 2018, and increased media attention means those numbers will likely continue to rise. SMBs need to act now to minimize their own risk of a lawsuit.”
Losing Potential Customers
Individuals with disabilities represent a large portion of the population. In fact, data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that nearly one in five people are living with a diagnosed disability, and more than half of those with a disability describe their condition as severe.
You don’t want to turn away great potential customers simply because you forgot to update your website.
While a lawsuit is certainly a scary possibility for an SMB, many individuals with disabilities won’t go through this legal process after discovering that your website won’t work with their assistive equipment.
Instead, they’ll speak with their wallets by choosing not to do business with you.
The most noteworthy study on this trend was the U.K.’s 2016 Click-Away Pound Survey, which notes in its calls for 2019 survey submissions that “Nine out of 10 people don’t bother to complain about website accessibility problems.”
Despite this, the study found that 71% of individuals with disabilities will abandon a website that’s difficult to use. This results in an estimated loss of £11.75 billion (or approximately $14.4 billion) each year in the United Kingdom alone.
Many companies that fail to meet web accessibility standards won’t hear complaints from their lost customers. But there will be an impact on their bottom line as potential customers go to competitors who don’t place accessibility barriers in their way.
Making Web Accessibility A Priority
So what can you do to avoid potential lawsuits and lost customers? Proactively addressing any web accessibility issues facing your brand should become a top priority for this year and beyond.
If you hire a digital agency to build a new website for your brand, you should make sure that the agency understands website accessibility and has the necessary tools and know-how to create an ADA compliant site. Even if your website isn’t due for a major overhaul, you should audit your content and code to find and correct any issues that keep it from being accessible for all.
The best rule of thumb is to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). These guidelines cover a wide range of elements to ensure web accessibility compliance—from proper use of alt text to enabling keyboard-only navigation. Optimizing your content for a wide range of needs highlights your dedication to your audience.
Web accessibility can also pay dividends with your overall customer base.
A case study reported by the WAI highlighted how NPR created transcripts for its This American Life program to comply with updated FCC accessibility regulations. By creating the transcripts, the site saw a 6.86% increase in search traffic, a 4.18% increase in unique visitors and a 3.89% increase in its number of inbound links.
In other words, many of the best practices for web accessibility should also positively affect your overall ability to drive traffic to your website and attract more customers. It’s an investment that’ll pay off much sooner than you might expect.
The Internet is an essential part of our modern world—and as such, businesses have a responsibility to ensure that all potential users can access their content.
Ensuring that you comply with web accessibility standards won’t just help you avoid lawsuits though, it’ll leave you much better equipped for long-term success in the growing digital world.
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