Explore the social, technical, financial and legal accessibility issues to find out why a business case is not only important, but also feasible for adopting web accessibility.
The term "business case" refers to an assessment of the likely benefits and disadvantages of investing resources in order to achieve a particular outcome.
It is not limited to commercial activities, but refers equally to government entities, community-based organisations, funded services, private product and service delivery of all kinds.
It is important to acknowledge that implementing web accessibility is rarely — if ever — without cost. It takes time, expertise and therefore money to make the web accessible.
The question is whether making an existing website accessible, or ensuring a new web presence is accessible, will deliver an appropriate return on the investment of time and money required.
In deciding this, there are several factors to take into account.
Recognising human rights
When the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol was adopted was opened for signature on 30 March 2007, there were 82 signatories to the Convention, 44 signatories to the Optional Protocol, and one ratification of the Convention. All the signatories thus committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities to have equal access to the web. The Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008. The Convention specifically includes web accessibility as a basic human right.
Complying with legislation
An increasing range of countries has passed legislation requiring websites to be accessible to people with disability in the same way that physical access is legally mandated. While the specifics of such legislation vary from country to country, many have adopted the WCAG 2.0 constructed by the WC3 as their bottom line compliance standards. Failure to conform to the requirements of WCAG 2.0 leaves offenders open to various kinds of legal action.
Understanding your market
Adopting the principles behind WCAG 2.0, and implementing the actions required to put those principles into action, will make your website accessible to more people. This includes not only people defined as having a specific disability, but also those people who don't identify as having a disability but will benefit from accessibility initiatives, including older people with age-related disability needs, people with borderline cognitive limitations, people with mild sensory impairments and even people accessing websites on devices other than personal computers.
Additionally, as people with disabilities are being increasingly empowered by legislation, so their families and friends are using their market power to favour providers of products and services that set out to actively meet their needs better. Being seen to be accessible to the whole community can be a powerful market influence.
Balancing cost and return
Imposing accessibility on a previously inaccessible website is not cost free. Just as putting an accessibility ramp at the front of a very old building will incur costs and require some skill in analysing the deficiency in accessibility and how best to address it, so will dragging some of the image-heavy, poorly constructed, inadequately coded and badly written websites of the late 20th century into the modern, accessible era cost money.
The key to seeing the sense of making such an investment is to recognise that the return will be greater, in terms of increased traffic and purchasing. Equally, an investment in making an old website accessible should be viewed as a way of avoiding the cost of potential legal action from disgruntled customers with disabilities.
A point to also consider is that the cost of embedding accessibility principle into the design, development and content supply of new websites is dropping, and will continue to drop further as it becomes standard practice. Buying in skill and expertise now that can be passed via training into an entity's standard operating procedures means you won’t have to spend that money again.
Summary: minimise your risk
One positive way to view the business case for web accessibility is to regard it as an exercise in lessening risk.
The cost of legal action
With a growing range of legislation around the world protecting the rights of people with disability, leaving existing websites inaccessible — or building new inaccessible websites — leaves site owners and operators open to action of various kinds by people with disabilities. There have been several high profile cases in different countries where public and private providers of products and services have been subject to legal action on the basis of a lack accessibility.
Decimating your market
The number of people recognised as having a disability is rising throughout the world, not because there are actually more people with disabilities but because their needs and rights are being better understood, codified and met. Public and private providers of products and services seeking to address their entire markets must understand and address the needs of their customers with disabilities. Given that the proportion of people with disability within any community can be anywhere from ten per cent to over 20 per cent, it is simply good business sense to not shut them out.
Managing public relations
Apart from the cost of dealing with action brought by people with disabilities against providers of inaccessible websites, there is an additional cost in the negative impact on an entity's public standing in being seen to be inaccessible. There are no good outcomes for entities that are seen to be refusing to become accessible. However, given that people with some kinds of disabilities have become more active customers of goods and services via the web, meeting their access needs is likely to create a very positive public reaction that translates into greater brand awareness and loyalty.
More and more public entities are being required by legislation to favour providers of accessible goods and services. In some circumstances, providers deemed to be inaccessible are simply disregarded in a tender process, in accordance with legislative requirements. If your organisation has government customers and you have a web presence, that presence must be seen to be accessible or you will lose those customers.
The risk of expensive legal action, cutting out a significant segment of your market, damaging your brand and losing government customers should convince any entity that failing to implementing web accessibility is simply a poor business decision.
Ultimately, the business case for implementing web accessibility comes down to:
- It's the right thing to do
- It's required by law
- It's better for business outcomes
- It's better for your brand
- The cost outlay is outweighed by the cost benefit