Over the last 14 years I’ve sat in numerous meetings with a wide range of colleagues including development managers, marketing managers, developers, directors, managing directors and CEOs discussing Accessibility, and the need for it. These discussions provoke a fairly standard set questions and responses:
- What is Accessibility?
- Do we have to “do” Accessibility?
- What’s the commercial advantage of spending precious development time and budget on Accessibility?
- Blind people don’t (drive cars / build houses / fly planes). The list goes on.
The last point is always a cheap shot. A gag cracked by someone who really hasn’t thought it through, and the people that laugh are either adopting “Staffter” or equally have no understanding or empathy. Blind people may not drive cars, but people with visual impairments do. Blind people also buy insurance on behalf of other people too. Accessibility doesn’t just cover “blind” people either. It covers physical and learning impairments.
So, given it takes time and effort to make a website Accessible, just how do you win the case for this investment?
Well, to start with, it’s the law – the Disability Act 2010. It’s tempting to pick and choose the laws that we wish to have applied to our lives, but unless you’re in the position of being a dictator, this is a luxury most of us don’t have. Summarising it, businesses have to “take reasonable steps to ensure that the services they provide can be accessed by people with physical and learning impairments”.
There are very few cases of people successfully suing companies for not complying, so the legal argument never carries the day. Another angle is needed.
PR and reputation
A brand works hard to provide great service, building up its reputation and standing, and then some busy-body with an axe to grind comes along and attacks them for failing to meet their legal and moral obligations. Hmm. Well, if the above point is unlikely to happen, then so is this one. And anyway, if it did happen, it would be damped down with some smooth talk, right? Next line of attack.
We all like a good Corporate Social Responsibility policy – it projects us a brand that cares about plants, people and whales. But what if we, through inaction, implicitly turn as much as 10% of the population away from our business out of hand, simply because they have a physical or learning impairment? That leaves something of a hole in our wholesome brand. Morally, this is not a comfortable position, but it doesn’t negatively impact the bottom line, right? We need commercial up-sides.
Good Accessibility translates directly to good Usability if it’s done from the outset. Good Usability == Income == Profit. Now we’re getting somewhere. If this is built in at the start, employing best practice, there really should be no incremental development cost. And even if you tackle it retrospectively, you will have minor gains. Few website improvements have commercial gains that stand out like dogs balls (except on the conference circuit), but think “marginal gains”.
Good old “free” SEO – the would-be saviour of every cash-strapped business currently beholden to PPC. Now, SEO is a movable feast; a treadmill; a conveyor belt; an ever shimmering but never closer oasis. An excerpt from Google’s mission statement was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Did you see the word “accessible”? If we look at what Google likes, it is sites that are good for people – relevant, maintained, structured, easily navigable, easily readable.
Getting Accessibility right is a big tick in the box for SEO. Which is a genuine income generator/ cost reducer.
This is a time old discussion point that has no place in well run businesses that want to be successful. But, if you do encounter it, hopefully the above will help you win the argument, and do the commercially and morally right thing.
My Accessibility policy describes the work that I have done in order to make this website Accessible.