By Timothy Quinlan, Senior User Experience Architect
and Matt Hammer, Director of Technical Development
In the first four blogs of this series, we primarily focused on the legal obligations companies have to make their websites accessible. If your website makes it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to engage with your business, you are not treating them fairly. You also open your company up to potential lawsuits.
But perhaps the top-most issues from the business perspective when it comes to website accessibility are the ability to market to a larger target audience and to generate more revenue. Companies spend billions of dollars every year to increase leads by only a few percentage points. They also invest IT resources in making sure their websites can be viewed by old browsers that are no longer supported.
At the same time, some companies neglect a larger audience—people with disabilities that have difficulty viewing websites, listening to audio, or manipulating their mouse or keyboard. Most estimates determine the number of people with some kind of disability to be at least 10 percent. That’s just too big of an audience segment to ignore!
Accessibility Plays Key Role in Reaching Entire Target Market
During the first four blogs of this series, we provided overviews of the accessibility guidelines to follow as well as how to conduct assessments. From there, we discussed effectively documenting compliance and the provided tips for the common accessibility fixes that companies typically need to apply.
One of the reasons why we emphasize the guidelines and assessments is that accessibility is not being championed by marketing agencies. But it is essential in digital marketing in order to effectively reach your target audience.
Consider how marketing teams plan million-dollar campaigns for landing pages designed to increase lead generation and conversions. But all it takes is for the form submission button on that landing page to fail color contrast requirements, and suddenly the 5-10% of the audience that is color blind may not be able to see or read the call to action. So right out of the gate, the landing page is blocking a portion of the target market from doing business.
As this situation demonstrates, when building or adding content to websites, it’s critical for content authors, software code developers and design artists to consider whether anything they create is accessible to everyone. Accessibility assessment should be considered a key step of every website project, just as the level of security for the website is always a factor.
As your company attempts to stay ahead of the compliance requirements curve, it’s important to realize that website accessibility is not a one-and-done deal. It’s an on-going process you will need to build into your website management plan—so as you build new content, and as technologies and regulatory requirements change, you will be able to adapt.
Guidelines to Monitor and Strategies to Apply
In our first blog, we discussed how important it is to keep an eye on new developments relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); recent court decisions have applied the principles of ADA to websites just as they do to physical locations. The federal government has currently put on hold any considerations of expanding ADA to formally include digital environments, but that can change when the Department of Justice changes personnel or priorities. Because ADA revisions are on hold and the number of lawsuits around website noncompliance continues to skyrocket, many state governments are now considering legislation pertaining to digital accessibility.
For the foreseeable future, the key to complying with ADA is still to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which include specific standards to meet for website accessibility. WCAG was just updated to version 2.1, so we don’t expect any more changes in the next couple of years. By applying these guidelines to your website, you can take a proactive approach to accessibility and ensure you will always be ready for any regulatory changes that might emerge.
Another strategy to employ is regular manual navigation assessments of your website and on-going automated assessments—using a tool such as Siteimprove, which we discussed in the second blog of our series. If you have a relatively static website, you may need to conduct manual navigation assessments just once per year. But if your site is dynamic, and content changes regularly, we recommend monthly or quarterly assessments. This is particularly true for healthcare, education, and other sectors where accessibility rights are highly protected by regulations.
To continuously scan your website for compliance issues, Siteimprove is a tool you can run in the background. The solution produces errors that represent issues that must be fixed in order to meet compliance guidelines while warnings represent issues that may need to be fixed. Siteimprove further categorizes these issues as functional—relating to what end users can do on the website—or design-related, pertaining to what end users see on the website.
The Best Investment You Can Make
Companies are often scared off by the idea of addressing compliance head-on. Yet it may be the single most impactful investment you can make. You will reach a wider audience, engage more effectively, and mitigate major financial risk from lawsuits.
Accessibility allows your marketing department to deliver in critical areas that are often difficult to guarantee success: brand awareness and loyalty, lead generation and conversions, and an engaging customer experience. Accessibility efforts also often overlap with good user experience, SEO best practices, and a mobile-first design.
Staying ahead of the compliance curve will give you a real advantage in today’s competitive landscape. A strong foundation and investment in accessibility will also future-proof your company as this landscape changes over time. While retrofitting an older website can be expensive and complex, building an accessible website from the ground up is not. It is a goal that is absolutely achievable for any company as long as the knowledge and will are there to make it happen.
If you’ve read through this blog series, you are now familiar with everything you need to know to start or continue your journey toward compliance. The investment will strengthen your digital marketing efforts, and your audience—your whole audience—will benefit from the effort.
This is the last of a five-part series on website accessibility. For the first four blogs, check out the R2insights section of our website. And if you need assistance evaluating the accessibility of your website or developing a strategy to ensure accessibility compliance, contact R2integrated at www.r2integrated.com/contact.