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Benefits of Web Accessibility & ADA Compliance

David Gibson

If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who not only cares about web accessibility and digital inclusion, but also sees a good business opportunity for your company. From SEO to DEI to increased sales to better website performance… the list goes on. 

But you're asking How do I sell decision makers on web accessibility?

Yes, it can be a hard sell internally. Many are simply unaware of the moral and legal obligations. Others see only the cost and underestimate the benefits.

I’ve spoken to hundreds of execs over the years, so let me pass on some advice.

What is web accessibility and ADA compliance?

First of all, let's set the table. Websites, mobile apps, website widgets and SaaS all fall under this umbrella. For convenience sake (and seo;) I’m going to refer to it all as “Web accessibility”, which is the practice of designing and developing such digital properties in ways that are usable by everyone, regardless of ability. ADA compliance is the legal requirement for businesses and organizations to ensure that their websites and apps are accessible to people with disabilities, as mandated by Title III of the ADA.   And in lieu of clear standards from the DOJ, the courts, advocates and the web community have established the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as the de facto standard for ADA compliance.

Therefore, the goal is to get your website or digital property to reach WCAG 2.1 A, AA. WCAG 2.2 is expected to be released this year. But for now and for some time, WCAG 2.1 will stand as the goal.

Why should you care about web accessibility and ADA compliance?

There are many reasons why you should care about web accessibility and ADA compliance, both from an ethical and a business perspective. Here are some of the most important ones:

** NEW ** It's good for AIO - Artificial Intelligence Optimization
Artificial Intelligence Optimization is a new concept that is suddenly upon us as users shift from search engines to web enabled AI chat models such as Bing and ChatGPT. Turns out that despite their intelligence, they can face some of the same barriers that assistive technologies such as screen readers also face. The common solution is adherence to the WCAG. This blog post redefines the new term AIO and outlines its new role for website marketers, and this post dives into how AIO can add value to WCAG compliance.

It's the right thing to do
Web accessibility is a human right, and by making your website or app accessible, you are respecting the dignity, equality, and inclusion of people with disabilities - as well as Seniors. You are also demonstrating your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which is increasingly important for customers, employees, and stakeholders.

It's good for SEO
Web accessibility and SEO (search engine optimization) go hand in hand, because many of the best practices for making your website ADA compliant will also improve its ranking on search engines. For example, using clear headings, alt text, captions, labels, and semantic markup helps both people with disabilities and search engines understand your content better. By following the WCAG you can boost your SEO performance and reach more potential customers.

It's good for usability and customer satisfaction for all
Web accessibility enhances the user experience for everyone, not just people with disabilities. By making your website or app easy to use, navigate, understand, and interact with, you can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

It’s good for expanding sales and customer reach
Here’s your hammer. Not only are there 61M people with a disability in the US, there are also 71M Baby Boomers who carry $548B in discretionary spending. Whether they declare themselves as such or not, anyone who lives long enough will experience the same challenges with vision, hearing, cognition and fine motor skills. 

I can’t emphasize how key this point is. Boomers are our first digital seniors. And as a son of two, I can attest that they’re having a heck of a time navigating increasingly complex websites, apps, and devices. What I’d give to have the VCR and answering machine be the most confusing tech in the house again! 

More thoughts on The Boomer Factor

It's good for legal protection
If opportunity to reach boomers is the hammer, then avoiding legal risk is the nail.

Web accessibility is not only a moral obligation, but also a legal one. The number of web-related ADA lawsuits rise every year (summary of 2022 web related ADA lawsuit statistics). And with more than 96% of websites failing WCAG conformity, it could not be easier for trolling plaintiffs and lawyers to make easy money flooding businesses with demand letters, and state and federal lawsuits.

Some may say the law is unclear, and use that as an excuse for inaction. However, the U.S. Department of Justice has interpreted Title III of the ADA to include websites as places of public accommodation, which means that businesses and organizations are required to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. Failing to do so exposes them to costly litigation, fines, penalties, reputational damage, and loss of customers. By complying with the ADA and WCAG standards, you can avoid these risks and protect your business. 


How can you convince folks upstairs that ADA compliance is a good investment?

Now that you know some of the benefits of web accessibility and ADA compliance, how can you convince your senior managers to invest in them? Here are some tips:

Do your research
Before you approach decision makers, make sure you have done your homework and gathered relevant data and evidence to support your case. For example, you can conduct an accessibility audit (not automated only) of your website or app to identify any issues or gaps that need to be addressed. You can also benchmark your website or app against your competitors or industry leaders to see how they fare in terms of accessibility. You can also look for success stories or case studies from other businesses or organizations that have implemented web accessibility and ADA compliance and achieved positive results.

Understand the process of web accessibility
The process begins with internal policy commitment backed by funding. Then you need to audit the property, and here what’s key to understand is the limitations of automated auditing tools. In this case, even when infusing AI (so far), software cannot detect more than 40% of WCAG issues. Therefore, qualified human accessibility auditors are required. Experts who know all the various nuances of the users with a wide range of disabilities, the assistive technologies they employ, and the WCAG itself. The results of such an audit should provide detailed guidance for your teams to remediate the property. Once complete, qualified WCAG auditors should verify the remediation work. Then, such a company can issue a letter of validation, or author a VPAT. If your company interacts with the US federal government or educational institutions, they very likely will need a VPAT. More on VPATs.

Know your audience
Different decision makers will have different priorities or concerns when it comes to web accessibility and ADA compliance, based on their role and department. For example, some may be more interested in the financial aspects, such as return on investment, cost-benefit analysis, or tax credits. Others may be more focused on the legal aspects, such as risk management, compliance, or litigation. Still others may be more concerned about the social aspects, such as DEI, corporate social responsibility, or customer satisfaction. Try to tailor your message and arguments to the specific interests and goals of your audience, and use language and terminology that they can relate to and understand.

Find allies. Who in your organization understands the risks, opportunities, and obligations of digital accessibility and will get behind you? Who in the decision making team can serve as a champion?

Be realistic and flexible
You may encounter some resistance or challenges, such as budget constraints, technical limitations, or lack of awareness or expertise. Try to anticipate these potential barriers and address them with solutions or alternatives. As a first step, I’d suggest establishing a corporate policy commitment that declares that your company supports digital inclusion and will strive to ensure that all digital properties - both internally and externally facing, based on WCAG 2.1 AA. And then be flexible about the approach and timing. This can be a significant cost, and you might need to take a phased approach. For example in the first year, you might just start with automated testing, and then build up to human testing in the second year. 

What to avoid: Plugins and Overlay Widgets

Be aware that there are short-cut providers that tell quite a tale of their capabilities and will suggest that using the magic of AI they can make your site ADA compliant overnight with a snippet of code. Despite what you might expect (I could believe that), these claims are categorically bogus, and here’s one of many articles that explain why. But even if you get it, the risk is that a decision maker that simply Googles “web accessibility widgets” will get drawn into any one of a dozen or so “overlay providers”.

Wrap Up

Web accessibility and ADA compliance are not only ethical and legal obligations, but also smart business decisions that can benefit your business in many ways. After all, there are more than a billion people worldwide that experience disabilities.  By following the tips above, I hope you will have what you need to convince them. And please, contact me if you need help, or succeed and want further guidance. Good luck!

- David Gibson, President


Photo by Diva Plavalaguna