The importance of accessibility in a digital world

Businesses need to be more digitally accessible for inclusivity

During the unprecedented events of the last year, the world relied more heavily on technology and digital solutions than ever before. But while many people were able to take solace in the connectivity offered by the internet, there’s a portion of society who have been left behind — those living with disabilities.

Currently, 15% of the population live with a disability. Despite this, an astonishing 70% of websites are still not accessible to individuals with visual impairments and similar disabilities. To put that into context, that’s around 800 million sites!

In 2021, it is simply unacceptable that such a large group of people experience a reduced or limited access to the services we collectively rely on. So much of what we do now take place online, from shopping to communicating and even accessing vital government resources.

An inaccessible world

While some sites contain accessibility-friendly features, others have actively blocked assistive technologies due to poor design. Not only is this unfair on those consumers with disabilities, but it’s also bad for business. The average organisation loses around 15% of potential online customers due to this type of poor user design. That’s bad news for shoppers, bad news for businesses, and a poor reflection on our society.

People living with disabilities should not have to work around inaccessible content. The onus should be on businesses to accept responsibility and adapt their content for everyone by creating inclusive online experiences.

But for all the corporate talk of providing excellent customer service, many brands stop short of providing every consumer with the same experiences. Organisations fail to recognise that some of their most loyal clients cannot access their digital content, products or services.

Making digital accessibility a priority, not an afterthought

For almost 15 years, there have been readily available guidelines on digital accessibility — making it clear to organisations the standards they need to meet to ensure everyone can view their content.

However, the issue comes when companies have to translate the theory behind accessibility into practice. Websites are constantly being changed and updated, making it a task to ensure all new content meets the required standards.

Unfortunately, accessibility is just not a priority for the majority of organisations. As such, new content is often quickly adapted as an afterthought in a desperate effort to save time and costs.

A lack of quality developer training is also part of the problem. Many designers and developers simply do not have the relevant knowledge needed to efficiently combat inaccessibility – resulting in an increasing amount of time and resources being required to create accessible content at a high standard.

How to create a digital future for everyone

Making a site accessible is not something that can just happen overnight. It’s key for brands to bake accessibility into their designs. However, the responsibility should not just rest on the development team — marketing departments, community managers and high-level executives should all be making accessible content a priority. Accessibility is a transversal topic, and everyone should be involved.

Start by identifying your roadblocks to figure out which areas you need to prioritise to tackle inaccessibility.

Technology can play a massive part in making the online experience available to all.

Take, for example, the recently launched Contentsquare Foundation, which is already working with some of the world’s biggest brands to ensure their websites and apps meet the highest standards of accessibility. Contentsquare is building these considerations directly into its analytics and UX tools – offering accessibility plugins that allow users to personalise their own reading profiles and providing detailed reports that manually assess the accessibility levels of a web page, recommending actions to solve any potential issues.

To help build a fair future, the Foundation also partners with universities and web courses to ensure digital accessibility training is a key part of the learnings for the next generations of developers. Working in partnership with Microsoft and Simplon, the Foundation has recently launched a free accessibility course to raise future developers’ awareness about the importance of digital accessibility.

As development and UX design tools improve, we may one day reach a stage where all websites and digital content are automatically accessible, negating the need for disability aid tools and allowing these inaccessibility issues to be addressed before they even begin.

Perhaps the most important factor in this fight is a complete change in societal and organisational perspective. Organisations need to begin viewing accessibility as an essential part of their digital presence, incorporating it into every facet of their culture and business strategies. Accessibility cannot be an afterthought; it must sit at the very heart of great design.

In this digital era, the customer is king. With digital platforms taking the main stage like never before, it is vital that organisations are proactive and take responsibility to ensure that their apps, sites and experiences are accessible to everyone. Not only will an accessibility-first approach maximise companies’ potential audiences, but it will also ensure that everyone has the opportunity to stay connected in the new digital world. With 80% of disabilities being invisible, there may well be people in your own company who rely on digital accessibility. Whether you’re a business, a government department, or an online retailer — your digital content needs to be for everyone.

By Marion Ranvier, Web Accessibility and Foundation Director, Contentsquare.
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