Why All Digital Content Needs to Be Accessible

Updated: Aug 8

According to Pew Research, about 62% of American adults with a disability say that they own a desktop or laptop computer — compared with 81% of those without a disability.


Unfortunately, a digital divide exists for people who have disabilities. Most websites still have major accessibility barriers that impact the experiences of these users, which may explain the disparity. And while the number of accessibility-related lawsuits continues to rise each year, many brands have been slow to adopt better practices.


At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we believe that all content needs to be accessible — regardless of its purpose. Every website has users with disabilities, and accessibility improvements impact all users, regardless of their abilities.


If you’re deciding whether to prioritize accessibility, here are a few considerations to keep in mind.


Most people will eventually have some type of disability


Due to demographic factors, the number of people with disabilities is expected to increase over time. Currently, the numbers are too large to ignore: About 1 in 4 U.S. adults have a disability that impacts a major part of their life, and worldwide, about 1 billion people live with disabilities.

But accessibility affects everyone, both directly and indirectly. Accessible websites are more useful resources for people with temporary disabilities (such as a broken hand or temporary vision loss) and situational disabilities (accessing a website on a poor internet connection or browsing a mobile app in direct sunlight).


If your organization doesn’t prioritize accessibility, it ignores a huge number of potential users. That can have a major impact on profitability:

  • According to the United Kingdom’s Click-Away Pound survey, more than 4 million UK shoppers abandoned a retail website due to accessibility barriers.

  • The Click-Away Pound survey estimates that accessibility barriers cost British retailers £11.75 billion ($16.5 billion).

Outside of e-commerce, accessibility remains an important priority. Accessible design improves customer retention and brand loyalty, and the business case for accessibility is strong in every industry.


For websites and mobile apps, accessibility is legally required


In 2022, the European Union’s European Accessibility Act (EAA) will take effect, requiring member states to compel private businesses to follow the best practices of the Web content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).


Other disability-rights laws carry implicitly similar requirements: While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t require websites and mobile apps to follow WCAG, the Justice Department has indicated that WCAG Level AA conformance is a reasonable standard for accessibility.


When digital content contains accessibility barriers, content creators may face consequences:

  • According to a report from Accessibility.com, U.S. businesses received 265,000 website accessibility demand letters in 2020 alone.

  • Conservatively, companies that receive ADA demand letters can expect to spend around $25,000 on legal fees and remediation.

  • The ADA and other international accessibility laws apply to mobile content, too. In a landmark 2019 decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a plaintiff could pursue discrimination litigation against Domino’s Pizza, LLC, for alleged accessibility issues affecting the pizza chain’s mobile website and app.

Other types of digital content may also require accessibility for compliance with anti-discrimination laws. If your business’s internal communications require the use of chat clients, PDF documents, or any other digital content, you have a responsibility to make those resources accessible — ignoring that responsibility can create productivity bottlenecks and legal liabilities.


Accessibility isn’t a burden — it’s an investment


In a 2016 Forrester Research Economic Impact Study commissioned by Microsoft, 31% of respondents said that “high costs" were the most significant barrier for providing accessibility technologies. Another 26% cited “lack of funding available" as the most significant barrier.


It’s true that building accessibility into your business’s processes will require time and effort. However, contrary to popular misconception, it’s not a profit-depleting mess of bureaucratic red tape. By improving user experiences and expanding your audience, accessibility provides a fast and dependable return on investment.


Prioritizing accessibility can reduce the long-term development costs of digital content. It can instantly enhance profits and brand image while improving staff morale. In short, it offers both practical and intangible benefits — and while we’ve helped many organizations earn WCAG conformance, we’ve never had a client describe the investment as a poor allocation of resources.


Whether you’re developing a website, a mobile app, a digital kiosk, or any other type of content, you can enjoy better results by implementing the principles of accessibility.


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This article was originally published on the Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BoIA).


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