Accessibility as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the ability to be reached, approached, used, or understood. The power of technology allows businesses to make information and resources more easily available to those who need it. There is no really good reason for any digital information to be inaccessible at this time in history.
Creating and expanding access to knowledge, information, and learning opportunities for people with disabilities should be a human right, and ongoing litigation should make it so in the United States in the not-too-distant future. Until updated laws are on the books, the generally accepted best practices for websites, the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.1 AA (WCAG 2.1 AA) should be implemented and followed by all entities that have a digital presence, at the very least.
Even though the front-end costs (financial and physical) can seem overwhelming to many organizations, especially small businesses, the fact is that accessibility can drive innovation, enhance a brand, extend market reach, and minimize legal risk.
Accessibility, both digital and physical, encompasses many solutions and is best looked at as an ongoing process of working towards including more people in meaningful ways. When it comes to including those with a visual impairment, these solutions include braille, large print, electronic document accessibility, and audio versions of text.
The Business Case for accessibility from w3.org includes direct and indirect benefits of accessibility and the risks of not addressing accessibility adequately. It is worth the read. Businesses that will thrive in the economy of tomorrow recognize that meeting the needs of diverse populations is key to their business model today.
According to LevelAccess.com, “Organizations face significant risks in terms of legal fees, negative brand impact, and lost revenue if accessibility is not implemented within their sites or applications. The business case for implementing accessibility can be seen in light of reducing the risk associated with each of these risk factors. Each risk is a cost, with the total cost equal to the total potential damage multiplied by the likely rate of occurrence. Given the scope of the operations of most major organizations today, and the multi-year span of such a risk analysis, an average organization faces the potential for significant damages if accessibility is not addressed in the near term.”
Unfortunately, there is a lot of work to be done. A majority of websites are not yet ADA or WCAG-compliant. WebAIM did a study of the top 1,000,000 websites where they evaluated them with automated tests (which only catch a subset of all potential issues) and came to some fascinating conclusions. They found that “97.8% of home pages had detectable WCAG 2 failures” – that’s just from automated tests, not counting actual use.