March 10, 2022
From CYA to ROI: The Marketing Case for Website Accessibility
Did you hear about the new supermarket opening in town? It has the absolute best products – top quality, affordable, organic. There are just a few things you should know before you visit: The store has no sidewalk ramps or handicapped parking spaces, no signage for the exits, restrooms, or aisle contents, and it’s got heavy doors, dim lighting, and teeny tiny credit card machines.
That would never fly, right?
In today’s world, marketers must view digital barriers to products, services, shopping or information with the same scrutiny, as they are bad not only for their consumers’ experience but also for their brand equity and their bottom line.
WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY TODAY
One in four U.S. adults live with some sort of disability, yet the vast majority of websites do not meet federal guidelines for accessibility. A recent WebAIM study looked at the top 1 million websites and found more than 97% out of compliance (imagine if 97% of grocery stores didn’t follow ADA requirements).
The federal Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are comprehensive, layered and specific, but at a high level, they ensure digital content is: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust (POUR).
- Perceivable: Users of all abilities must be able to perceive the information, so presentation cannot rely on vision, hearing, or any other specific sense or ability alone.
- Operable: Users of all abilities must be able to navigate and interact with information and functionalities, so the site must work with screen readers, tab navigation, etc.
- Understandable: Both the information and the navigation must be easily identifiable and understandable to users of all abilities.
- Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies, which continue to evolve.
Introduced in 1999 and updated several times since, the WCAG, in conjunction with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, are an attempt to extend/adapt the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for the online space, and companies who fail to adhere to them run the risk of legal action. In 2021, digital ADA lawsuits increased 15% over 2020, and over the last four years, more than 80% of the top E-commerce companies have been sued for website accessibility issues. Other often-targeted industries include finance, healthcare and retail.
But risk avoidance is not a strategic marketing exercise, so here’s where we pivot the conversation to the significant, brand- and business-building opportunities that accessibility measures can enable.
ACCESSIBILITY BUILDS YOUR BRAND AND YOUR BUSINESSES
Reach, Profit and Growth: Let’s revisit that 25% of U.S. adults with disabilities – that segment accounts for more than 61 million people who collectively have a spending potential of more than $490 billion. Ensuring they have access to your goods and services online allows for that spending potential to benefit your business.
Benefits to all users: There are many ways that ADA compliance benefits everyone, regardless of whether-or-not they live with a disability. One example is the curb cuts we see at intersections in our sidewalks. These ramps were initially designed to assist veterans with disabilities in the 1940s. However, people quickly realized that everyone benefits from this accommodation, regardless of whether they’re in a wheelchair, riding a bike or simply have difficulty walking. This became known as The Curb Cut Effect, which asserts that investment in one group can expand out to a broader benefit for everyone.
We also see this in videos with captions. While the captions are intended for people with hearing impairments, we can all enjoy watching videos in our social feeds — even in situations where having the sound ‘on’ is not ideal. You might be surprised by the ways making accommodations in your digital channels results in positive benefits to everyone in your user audience.
Next-level creative: A common concern among creators is that accessibility measures limit creativity, but this is a misconception. Accessible creative ensures all consumers can experience it. It’s not limiting if you gain an understanding of where the guard rails are and employ them thoughtfully throughout the design and building process of your website and/or digital channels. You can begin with a few tweaks, such as adding an accessibility helper module to your website, but eventually should infuse every part of the creative process with accessibility considerations, from strategy to back-end development. It’s a great way to do the right thing for your users – and, get an edge over the competition.
The journey to an ADA-compliant website will evolve and remain a continuous process. Often, websites may ace compliance upon launch, but fall out of compliance over time.
Brand strength: 80% of customers agree the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services, and an accessible site means a better customer experience.
Additionally, consumers are increasingly looking to align themselves with brands whose values align with their own, and who demonstrate authentic commitment to core values such as diversity and inclusion. Ensuring accessibility across digital platforms is an important way to “walk the walk” of D&I commitment, which is important not only to your consumer audiences but also to your investors, business partners, and prospective and current employees.
When considering the business case for website redesign or remediation, CMOs, CEOs, CFOs and other decision makers should think beyond the cost/risk analysis and consider the compelling strategic implications for expanding brand reach, engaging new customers, and increasing profit potential and brand affinity over time.
Is your website POUR, poor, or are you unsure?