As revealed in a recent interview with CNBC and accessiBe Chief Vision Officer Michael Hingson, less than 2% of the 350 million active websites in the U.S. are considered accessible to people who have disabilities. This is problematic for quite a number of reasons, especially as the web becomes an increasingly important resource in many aspects of our lives, such as employment, business, health and wellbeing, and recreation.
Could you imagine not being able to access the sites you need the most, such as your online banking or maybe even your email provider? Well, that is the stark reality that millions of disabled people have to face each and every day due to a lack of provisions made by website owners and businesses alike.
Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that issues regarding website accessibility are relatively uncommon, only affecting a small minority of the population. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to the World Report on Disability, approximately 15% of the global population suffers from a disability, which equates to around 1 billion people.
People with disabilities, although being “the world’s largest minority,” are frequently disregarded, to the point that they experience discrimination and exclusion from a wide range of public resources, including the internet.
What is web accessibility?
To put it simply, web accessibility standards ensure that individuals with disabilities can utilize the internet and attain the same level of functionality as a fully able person. A website is deemed web-accessible if it can be used by everybody, regardless of ability or disability. Unfortunately, a substantial portion of the internet is now considered unusable or highly difficult to access for those with non-standard setups.
To help improve this, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have launched web accessibility initiatives to encourage businesses and website owners to make their content more accessible. The current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 focuses on four principles when assessing the accessibility of websites:
- Perceivable: This simply means that the user should be able to comprehend the information; the individual should receive the content by sight, sound, or touch.
- Operable: Can the site be used or interacted with? Is it possible for someone who can only use a keyboard to navigate with ease? Is it possible for a user who takes a little longer than average to finish a form without it timing out?
- Understandable: Is the content on the website readable? Is it easy to understand, or is it full of technical jargon that would make it difficult for someone with cognitive issues to digest? While this doesn’t mean that complex content should be simplified, readable versions should be provided where possible.
- Robust: Robust sites allow individuals to use their own technologies to view the site rather than being compelled to utilize a particular web browser or assistive software. Accessible websites function with various browsers and devices, are responsive to zoom and are compatible with assistive technology.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why we all need to start taking web accessibility more seriously.
One in four U.S. adults are disabled
As we just touched upon, a whopping 15% of the population is believed to suffer from a disability of some form. In the USA, this percentage rises to a whopping 26% (one in 4) of adults, according to the CDC. The ratio of disabled people is higher in the United States because the country has one of the largest aging populations in the world, and people are more likely to acquire disabilities when they reach old age.
Nevertheless, a massive proportion of the population is potentially unable to access vital online resources. Making the web accessible to these individuals would undoubtedly benefit businesses, society, and the individuals themselves, generating value in a wide number of areas.
Furthermore, the total disposable income of disabled people in the United States is projected to be north of $490 billion. In other words, businesses are overlooking a massive segment of the consumer market, which is undoubtedly harming their bottom line. In fact, it’s estimated that businesses without accessible websites lose $6.9 billion each year to competitors who have taken the time to put provisions in place.
Web accessibility helps all users
It’s important to remember that a more accessible site benefits all users, not just the disabled ones. Most business owners fail to appreciate the sizable overlap between accessibility and general usability. Think about it – sites with more readable content, non-clashing colors, and straightforward navigation provide value to all types of visitors, leading to a more pleasant experience for everyone involved. This could even lead to a higher lead conversion rate, boosted sales, and a lower bounce rate for businesses.
Rising number of lawsuits and litigations
Finally, web accessibility lawsuits have been rising in recent years as the ADA and W3C begin to ramp up the pressure on non-conforming websites in the USA. According to UsableNet, the number of web accessibility lawsuits is on track to reach 4,195 in 2021. That’s up 20% from last year and works out to be around one new lawsuit per hour.
At the moment, eCommerce websites have received by far the highest number of lawsuits, partly due to the global pandemic, which saw a rapid rise in demand for these types of online stores. However, businesses of all shapes and sizes are firmly in the crosshairs, regardless of industry or sector. Interestingly, companies with revenue of less than 50 million received more lawsuits than their larger counterparts, indicating that small businesses are failing to comply with the guidelines, which is a shame as they are more likely to be the companies that would be less likely to afford the legal fees.
With one in every four individuals in the United States thought to be disabled, website owners must make accommodations to make their sites and content more accessible to those who need it. The good news is that these efforts will not be in vain since disabled people account for a sizable percentage of the consumer market. In addition, a user-friendly and fully accessible website is more likely to attract visitors and traffic through the site, which benefits all website owners considerably.