Design Domination Podcast Episode #149: The Business Case for Accessibility

Are you looking to have the accessibility conversation with clients or coworkers but not sure where to start? Have you tried but gotten resistance? Find out 10 common objections to accessibility and how to overcome them, so that you can educate and hopefully get them on board with accessibility.


In this episode of Design Domination, I’m going to help you make the business case for accessibility, so you can hopefully get your clients or coworkers on board with accessibility. Stick around to get lots of ammo to help you combat the most common accessibility objections.

Countering Client Objections to Accessibility

Knowing how to talk about accessibility is important, especially because a lot of people have misinformation about it or are confused by it. So I am going to help you educate others and set the record straight. You might learn something yourself too.

I want to preface this with this: It is your job as a designer of documents or websites or a website developer to bring this up. You are the expert they hired, and this is part of what you need to know about, just like you probably let them know about SSL and privacy policies if you build websites.

It also makes you look better—like the expert—if you bring it up before they do. It doesn’t feel great when a client comes to you and asks you why you didn’t bring up something.

But it’s worse if a client gets sued and then comes to you to ask, “Why didn’t you mention this?” In some cases, the client, after getting sued, went after the web developers because they never brought it up. In at least one case, they went after the hosting company too.

1. “Accessibility is only a legal concern.”

The first objection is one of the most common ones.

Now, if you’ve ever approached a client who isn’t a government entity or an organization or business that doesn’t fall under the ADA (or another law if they’re in another country), then you’ve probably been met with “Accessibility is only a legal concern and the laws don’t apply to us, so we don’t need to worry about accessibility.”

Since about 2017/2018, there has been a lot of ambiguity and upheaval in the legal space about accessibility and who it applies to.

Even if an organization does not have a legal requirement, it doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from making its website, documents and other content accessible.

Here’s why.

Revenue

Revenue is one reason, and oftentimes that will get someone’s attention when talking about accessibility.

There is a lot of data about accessibility and how it can impact revenue.

The Return on Disability Group’s 2016 annual report stated that people with disabilities in the United States have a total income of almost $873 billion and a disposable income of about $645 billion.

Data from a study by the UK’s Royal National Institute of the Blind showed that Tesco, a grocery chain, made additional revenue of more than £13 million a year after investing £35,000 to make their website accessible. £35,000 is a lot of money. Don’t get me wrong. But when your return on investment is £13 million a year. That’s awesome!

Data from the Click-Away Pound Survey, a UK study, showed that 71% of users with a disability will leave a website that is not accessible.

Think of it this way…

An organization may invest in a new website and maybe SEO too. They may also, at some point, send paid traffic to their website from ads. If the site isn’t accessible, that’s potential lost revenue.

Some people will leave the website and go to a competitor’s site. They may or may not come back. Why would they, if they can’t read the content or get around the website?

They may not take time to call the business and complain. Your client may never even know they lost a sale or that it was due to having an inaccessible website.

Accessibility was the missing link.

So accessibility is good for business.

User Experience

This all goes back to the user experience, whether it’s a website or a document or other type of content.

What’s good for accessibility is usability. The greater the usability, the more that all users—with or without a disability—will benefit and stay on the site longer. That, in turn, helps with SEO.

Predictability

Good usability means predictability. Part of that means not making people deviate from the way people are used to getting around a site.

For instance, when you design something, I know you want it to be unique. We all do.

But if you design it so that someone then has to think about it or doesn’t understand how to use it, then that’s poor usability.

People are used to a navigation being at the top or on the left. Don’t move it elsewhere on the page.

People are used to hyperlinks being underlined. Don’t make them think about where to click.

People are used to having visible menu options on the desktop. Don’t put them inside a hamburger menu.

Content structure

Good usability also means that users can easily find content because it’s visually styled well and tagged properly.

The visual styling is for sighted users, who can find information quickly by visually scanning the headings on a page, as long as they appear differently from the body text, such as by using a larger text size and heavier font weight.

The tags are for users of assistive technology, such as a screen reader, to find information quickly.

Readability

Another part of good user experience is readability. This is affected by contrast, typeface choice, white space and text size.

Readability means sighted users won’t have to strain to try to read light gray text on a white background or white text on yellow, which I see all over the place.

Again, what’s good for accessibility is good for usability.

Captions

Captions are necessary for accessibility and also enhance user experience. Providing captions is necessary for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals and a huge convenience to hearing individuals.

You may be surprised to learn (I was!) that 80% of television viewers use closed captions for reasons other than hearing loss. This was research done by Ofcom.

You might wonder in what situations might a hearing person use closed captions or a transcript. Let’s go over a few. You may have encountered some of them yourself.

  • someone in a noisy environment who is having trouble hearing the audio (kids making noise, a lawn mower outside the window, a coffee shop).
  • someone who is in a quiet environment where they can’t or don’t want to disturb anyone else, such as a library or sitting next to a sleeping baby.
  • someone who is not a native speakers of the language in the video.
  • someone who is having trouble understanding a non-native speaker because of a heavy accent or a person who has a speech impediment.
  • someone who is a more visual learner.

You could say, well, if it’s not a good time for them to watch something, they’ll just come back to the video later. But that’s not necessarily the case. When you have someone’s attention, you want to keep it. They may not remember to go back and watch the video.

Keyboard use

Keyboard use is another aspect of accessibility and good user experience. Unfortunately, many websites are not accessible via the keyboard.

Individuals with motor issues may not be able to use a mouse, so they use the keyboard. Users of screen readers and other assistive technology also make use of the keyboard.

But there are times when a mouse user will appreciate the use of the keyboard, such as a mother with a child in her lap and she’s trying to use her left hand on a laptop, or someone with a broken right wrist who can’t use a mouse.

I am a mouse user, but I use the keyboard as much as I can. It’s much faster and more accurate than a mouse.

Again, when someone has a good experience on a website, they are more likely to return to it in the future. They are more likely to stay on the site longer, which is good for SEO. They are also more likely to say positive things publicly about the business.

Reputation

That leads me to reputation. When something is good for business, it’s also good for the business’ reputation.

When the website and documents are accessible, most people won’t notice but they’ll still benefit from it. But someone with a disability will notice. That will leave a positive impression with them, making the business look good.

That’s good for word of mouth. Think about reviews on Facebook, Google, Yelp and other sites.

We have data to back this up too. The Australian Human Rights Commission showed that people with a disability are three times as likely to avoid that business and twice as likely to dissuade others from doing business with it when the site isn’t accessible.

So it’s a boost to the brand, because reputation is one aspect of branding.

Communication

Another way that accessibility applies to all organizations is with communication.

Graphic design is all about communication. Unlike fine art, graphic design serves a purpose other than just being esthetically pleasing. It usually needs to educate, engage, entice someone to buy a product or service, or take another action.

When the content is accessible, it will reach 20% more users, and don’t we, as designers, want our work to reach the widest audience possible? Don’t we want to help our clients with our work? That’s what we’re really being paid to do.

We’re not being paid to just create something that looks good. We’re being paid to create something that gets results or achieves a certain goal.

When accessibility is incorporated into the design, then it means more people can access that content and that they can also read and understand it.

For example, let’s say you design an infographic for social media, a document or a website. If you don’t take accessibility into account, then some people may not be able to read the text or see an icon that is being used to represent information. These could be people with low vision.

Maybe someone can read the text but they can’t understand some of the data because it’s being conveyed by color alone. This could be someone with color blindness.

The communication can be lost on about 20% of users—potentially more, especially if the business or organization specifically serves people with a disability.

Competitive Advantage

Accessibility also gives an organization a competitive advantage. Accessible websites can rank higher in Google search results than inaccessible websites.

There are a few reasons for that. One is that accessible sites usually have leaner code, so they load faster as a result. When a site loads faster, Google ranks it higher in search results pages.

Second is that accessible sites use proper tags and so when someone finds that site through an online search, they may be more likely to stay on the site because the content was more relevant to what they were searching for.

When they stay on the site longer, that can help with SEO too.

That gives you a ton of information to make a case on just that one objection.

2. “Accessibility costs too much.”

Another common objection about accessibility is that it costs too much.

A legit manual website accessibility audit to find the accessibility issues on a website isn’t cheap. That’s because it involves a lot of manual inspection of the code, which is much more than an automated checker can do. Depending on the site and how many pages need to be audited, this process can take several weeks to months.

In addition to that, there is the cost of remediation—to fix the site as well. That could also take several weeks to months. Remediation always costs more than incorporating accessibility into the process.

But the costs of an audit or remediation do not have to be invested all at one time.

A smaller set of pages could be audited and remediated first. Another set could be done later.

In some cases, it may or may not cost less to build a new, accessible site and migrate the content over from the old site.

But there are also the non-financial costs to consider that do affect the bottom line at some point: a negative reputation, which can lead to lost sales.

The other thing to consider is that lawsuits are expensive. Legal fines and fees can range anywhere from $1,000 to $350,000 per claim. Those costs also don’t include the cost of remediation. And once someone files a claim, it doesn’t mean a different plaintiff can’t come along and make their own, separate claim.

3. “We’re too small to worry about accessibility.”

You might hear “We’re too small a business to be concerned with accessibility” or that “We’re too small for someone to sue us over accessibility” or “Only large corporations need to worry about accessibility. We’re not Target or Domino’s.”

Businesses are not immune from accessibility lawsuits because of size. Small businesses may be easy targets.

I’ve personally been contacted by several web developers whose clients who were tiny businesses and got letters from attorneys. Businesses end up writing a check and still have to remediate their website.

4. “No one has complained about our website.”

You might hear, “No one has complained about our website, so it must be OK” or “not a big deal.”

Remember the data from the Click-Away Pound Survey? It showed that 71% of people with a disability leave a website that is not accessible.

What are the odds they are going to stop what they’re doing and take time to send an email or call to complain about the trouble they had on your client’s site?

They might assume your client doesn’t care about accessibility, because if they did, they’d have an accessible website.

They might feel discriminated against and not only never come back to the site but tell others. Remember that other fact I mentioned: people with a disability are three times as likely to avoid that business and twice as likely to dissuade others from doing business with it when the site isn’t accessible.

So your client or place of work might think that they would be kindly alerted to any issues someone may encounter, but that is not the case. Most people will simply get frustrated, leave the site and do business with a competitor.

And your client will be none the wiser.

So just because someone hasn’t complained yet doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem and doesn’t mean someone won’t come along and slap them with a lawsuit either.

5. “We don’t serve anyone with a disability.”

The next objection is, “We don’t serve anyone with a disability.”

But, yes, they definitely do. Potentially 20% or more of website visitors or readers of digital documents have a disability.

Many disabilities cannot be seen, such as color blindness, epilepsy, hearing loss or ADHD. But clients can’t see even the visible ones, such as a lost limb or broken arm, when people are coming to their website.

Your client may only find out for sure if someone calls or emails to complain or, worse, they contact a lawyer who sends a letter or files a lawsuit.

6. “Accessibility is for blind or older people.”

You might hear that accessibility is only for blind or older people. They might assume that blind or older individuals are not coming to their site, so they don’t need to be concerned with accessibility.

But they should be. People with blindness comprise one of the smallest groups of disabilities. There are other disabilities with larger numbers though.

Visual disabilities

Visual disabilities total 7.5 million, including blindness. But others are:

  • Color blindness,
  • Low vision,
  • Amblyopia,
  • Strabismus.

Auditory disabilities

Auditory disabilities total 11.4 million. These include:

  • Deafness,
  • Hearing loss.

Ambulatory disabilities

Ambulatory disabilities total 20.7 million. These include disabilities such as:

  • Chronic arthritis,
  • Lost limb,
  • Parkinson’s,
  • Multiple sclerosis,
  • Muscular dystrophy,
  • Cerebral palsy,
  • Stroke,
  • Broken arm.

Cognitive disabilities

Cognitive disabilities total 15.25 million and include:

  • Down syndrome,
  • Dementia,
  • Dyslexia,
  • Autism,
  • ADHD,
  • Memory loss.

Second, if your client or place of work doesn’t specifically serve older people, they might not think they should be concerned with accessibility.

But people aged 18 to 64 make up large percentages of people with disabilities.

Let me give you some stats based on people in the U.S. aged 18 to 64 with a disability:

  • 9 million have an auditory disability.
  • 3 million have an ambulatory disability.
  • 9 million have a visual disability.
  • 8 million have a cognitive disability.

7. “We don’t sell anything that a blind person uses.”

Another objection you might hear is “We don’t sell anything that a blind person uses.” Maybe the company sells power tools or racing lessons, for example.

A blind person may indeed not be able to use those things personally, but they may be shopping online for a gift for someone else, or they might be researching a product or service before buying.

8. “Our site passes an accessibility checker.”

You might hear “Well, our site passes an accessibility checker, So we’re good.”

There are problems with automated checkers. They can help you find some good, repeat errors. But they can only detect about 25% to 30% of potential accessibility issues. The majority must be found through a manual check.

So an audit is necessary in order to find out how truly accessible the site is.

9. “We had an audit and fixed our site already.”

Another objection is an objection for ongoing accessibility. That is “We had a website audit and fixed our site already.” So everything’s accessible.

That’s great if that’s the case. However, accessibility is an ongoing process. So it’s not set it and forget it.

With the client updating content on the site or a web designer or developer updating the site’s theme, plugins, etc., the accessibility of the site can change at any moment.

It doesn’t help that most theme and plugin developers don’t know accessibility practices. That certainly isn’t an excuse if something on the site is not accessible.

Accessibility requires periodic monitoring to check for accessibility issues and modifications to fix them.

10. “We’ll just use an overlay.”

I’ve saved one of the best ones—one of my favorite objections—for last. That is “We’ll just use an overlay.”

Businesses who say they can’t afford accessibility often turn to using an overlay, thinking it will be a cheaper investment.

There are tons of problems with overlays. I did an entire podcast on the problems with overlays, so be sure to check that out.

But, in short, since overlays are an automated tool, they can only detect about 25% to 30% of issues. They:

  • don’t affect the site;
  • can’t fix things properly;
  • provide redundant or separate functionality;
  • result in poor usability;
  • provide a false sense of security;
  • cause decreased site performance;
  • give you less control over branding;
  • open up the site to potential security issues;
  • can be seen as a form of discrimination;
  • can detect the use of assistive technology, which is a privacy issue;
  • delay the inevitable—remediation.

More Resources for How to Talk About Accessibility

Understanding and Selling Accessible Websites guie on tablet.If you want to find out other helpful information for having the accessibility conversation, get the free guide, Understanding and Selling Accessible Websites.

You’ll learn:

  • what you can do right now to help your clients and yourself, while making money doing it!
  • the types of businesses that need accessibility, so you can target them for potential work;
  • how to talk about it with clients, so you can feel confident;
  • the basics and benefits of website accessibility.

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