If You Build It (For Everyone), They Will Come

February 14, 2018 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: February 15, 2018

The internet is basically the world’s largest mall… with no parking lot. 56% of people around the world shop at Amazon.com alone.

It’s also the world’s largest movie theater. In 2017, the online video market was projected to hit $13.6 billion, surpassing brick-and-mortar movie theater revenue by more than $2 billion, according to PwC.

Even in education, the internet is slowly becoming the world’s largest university. More than one in four students are enrolled in at least one distance education course.

Websites are effectively replacing these traditional public spaces every year. The problem is that people with disabilities all too often get excluded from these online experiences that are becoming increasingly central to everyday life.

Despite federal disability rights laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, most organizations (whether they realize it or not) tend to be way behind when it comes to designing websites that everyone can use. The problem is so pervasive that, of the US government’s most popular websites, 42% fail basic testing for accessibility.

There are approximately one billion people worldwide with a disability. So, if you want to improve your company’s reach, ensuring your website is accessible to people with disabilities is one of the best business decisions you can make.

Invisible Disabilities and the Pitfall of Digital Spaces

People are relying more and more on websites for just about everything these days, including people with disabilities. Consequentially, the number of lawsuits against organizations with inaccessible websites across industries has increased dramatically in the past few tears.

In the US alone, there are about 48 million people who are deaf or hard of hearing and roughly 23.6 million who have at least some degree of vision loss. This represents about 30% of the population. Hearing loss and vision loss, in the majority of cases, are invisible disabilities — meaning you cannot immediately tell upon meeting the person that they have a disability. Invisible disabilities are extremely common and also include learning disabilities like dyslexia and neurological conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Statistically, 30% of the people at your place of work could have a disability and you wouldn’t even notice it. Invisible disabilities largely go underreported.

'Most videos are not accessible. For example, social media: Instagram doesn’t have any captions or even an ability. I mean, videos can look pretty cool, but I don’t know what people are saying.' See more at Faces Behind the Screen.

Because disability is often out of sight in this way, it tends to be out of mind, too. That’s why, more often than not, website owners, video publishers, and organizations fail to design their technology and websites for all users, especially those with disabilities that affect computer use. Even though we have federal laws that require equal access to goods and services for people with disabilities, many devices, interfaces, and digital technologies like retail websites are still built without considering all the needs of people with disabilities.

In the old days, before the internet, a blind person could walk into a grocery store and expect an employee to help them find what they need. A deaf person could communicate with a salesperson on a piece of paper or use other visual tactics like lip reading to communicate. The same assistance is there when people who are wheelchair bound or have visible motor disabilities go shopping.

When we use websites in place of physical spaces, however, we are not able to help customers in real time. So, we have to make sure these digital spaces are accessible at the initial design stage or else we leave these people without anyone to ask for help. If your website or web content is not screen reader accessible, cannot be navigated properly with a keyboard, or doesn’t include closed captioning on video content, you are not only excluding potentially millions of people from your business, you’re also missing out on a potentially large source of revenue.

The ROI of A11y

Inaccessible digital technology represents a huge missed opportunity for organizations everywhere. So, if you want more people to frequent your website and web cotent, make sure it’s accessible.
A study from the UK found that 71% of web users with a disability will simply leave a website that is not accessible. That figure represents a significant amount of lost business.

For ecommerce websites, simply making your website accessible could represent an estimated profit increase of 106–117%.

In the case of video accessibility, captions and transcripts can boost your video’s SEO. One company found that simply adding captions to their videos increased lifetime views by 7.32%. And since researchers are seeing a growing population with hearing loss, captioned video will become more and more in-demand as time goes on.

Neglecting accessibility could also potentially cost your business money. After losing a legal battle for having an inaccessible website, online retailer Target had to pay a $6,000,000 settlement. According to Jared Smith of web accessibility consulting company WebAim, “[T]he settlement amount is significantly more than what it would have cost Target to implement a high level of accessibility in the first place.”

Everyone Benefits from Inclusion

Thanks to the concept of Universal Design, we have cuts in sidewalks allowing people using wheelchairs to travel between crosswalks, in addition to building entrance ramps. These are design features that also benefit everyone.

However, there are only 2.2 million people in the US who use wheelchairs and more than 70 million people who have vision or hearing loss. Why aren’t we accommodating them, too, especially when more people are entering websites rather than buildings in an increasingly digital world?

Some of the most influential organizations like Amazon and Capital One are taking accessibility head on not just because they know it’s the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do!

Want to make sure videos on your website are accessible to people with disabilities? Download our Video Accessibility Checklist today!

download the video accessibility checklist

Read the free report: 2017 State of Captioning.

The closed caption CC icon shown in the middle of a TV.