Disabilities or impairments can be broadly categorized as auditory, cognitive, physical, or visual, and just as barriers exist in the physical world for these disabilities, barriers exist in the digital world.
While discussion of digital accessibility often revolves around accommodating disabilities, it often ignores the fact that lowering these barriers helps everyone have better online experiences while providing critical assistance for those who do truly need it.
The world wide web is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. It’s a global system of collective knowledge, know-how, tools, and real-time communication. As web workers, it is our collective moral and professional responsibility to create equitable and inclusive web experiences that every single person, regardless of ability, can use and use fully.
Denying any individual or group access to this wealth of information is not only a social-justice issue—it’s a financial one.
The Loss (Or Gain) of Revenue
Every year WebAIM conducts an automated accessibility evaluation of the top 1 million most-visited homepages.
In February 2021, the evaluation detected 51,379,694 distinct accessibility errors—an average of 51.4 errors per page. As automated testing is only capable of detecting issues that do not require context and manual investigation, it is safe to assume the rest of the pages for each of these sites contain additional accessibility issues.
You can start to consider web accessibility by asking yourself, “can any user freely navigate and interact with my website?” For example, if a user cannot access information about your products, how can you expect them to add items to their cart?
If a user cannot successfully enter payment information, how can you expect them to purchase anything?
According to the evaluation, 45% of the 4.4 million form fields present on homepages were not correctly labelled, meaning users of assistive technologies had no context or instructions for filling out those forms.
Think of the loss of sales because of inaccessible payment forms alone!
In 2019, Jason Grigsby wrote about how an inaccessible payment form cost Chipotle an estimated $4.4 million per year. Also in 2019, Adrian Roselli documented his effort to fix an inaccessible crowdfunding form that prevented an estimated $18 million in donations to campaigns.
These are just a couple of randomly selected examples. If you make money from your website, or hope to, investing in accessibility is clearly worthwhile.
Legal precedent exists for requiring accommodation for disabilities. In 1973, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability in federal programs or programs receiving federal aid or employment. In 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, which expanded civil rights to protect against discrimination based on disability.
Both Acts were signed into law before the internet became such a central part of our lives, however. Fortunately, Section 508 has been updated a few times, most notably in 1998 and 2017 when it was updated to incorporate the “digital” side of accessibility.
Until relatively recently there wasn’t much to be legally concerned about when owning and operating an inaccessible website. However, in August 2020 California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals broadly applied the Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959 California website accessibility laws to a Georgia-based company.
In Thurston v. Fairfield, the online retailer Fairfield Collectables of Georgia was sued for having an inaccessible website. The Court ruled that while Fairfield did not market to California directly, Californians accounted for 10% of its consumer base and 8% of its total sales, and because of this “substantial connection” the company was subject to California law.
For better or worse, this is the current legal environment. If you wish to avoid the risk of lawsuits and legal fees, investing in accessibility is once again clearly worthwhile.