Why taking digital accessibility seriously can be a win-win for business

Jon Maskrey

According to the WebAim Million report, 97.4 percent of the one million homepages it tested have accessibility failures when measured against the globally recognised WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guideline). Jon Maskrey, an accessibility expert, UX engineer and developer at Zengenti, believes businesses have further to go and more education is required.

Firstly, by changing the narrative so that this responsibility doesn’t solely land in the hands of developers and thus, opening up the business’ reach to consumers with disabilities, where in the UK alone for this group worth now exceeds £17bn.

Win-win

Why should you ensure your website is accessible? It’s a lot of effort for a small minority, right? Who actually benefits from a website being accessible?

According to the most recent DWP Family Resources Survey, 22 percent of people have a long-term illness, impairment or disability. That adds up to 14.6 million people between 2020 and 2021.

In addition to this, many more will have a temporary or situational disability and, therefore, may need to rely on a keyboard for navigating a website. Or they might have a temporary injury, like a broken arm, which means they can’t use a mouse effectively. If you’ve ever had your mouse run out of batteries, you’ve probably experienced how inaccessible websites quickly become.

Unsurprisingly, more than two-thirds of disabled online customers click away from sites they find difficult to use. And with businesses almost universally accelerating their digital offerings, accessibility is only going to become more important to them over time.

It’s, therefore, fundamental to consider accessibility, how it can help your business reach a wider customer base, and how these considerations can set you apart from competitors.

It’s no dark art

Since 2018 it has been the law for public sector sites in the UK to meet WCAG standards, which are based on four principles: websites should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

While there’s no such law for the private sector in the UK, in Canada they’ve taken the step to broaden this requirement to enterprises. It’s quite possible we’ll see accessibility laws similarly strengthened here in the UK over time too, so this may well one day become a compliance issue for businesses.

But it doesn’t need to be a massive headache. Many view accessibility as a ‘digital dark art’ – a technical aspect of web development that is best left to developers. In practice, there’s a lot that content creators and editors can do to make the web better and to help all users, especially those with disabilities.

While your CMS platform will never deliver all the tools to enable your site to be completely accessible, there are many things that can be done to overcome the most common accessibility issues. By encouraging website owners, content and marketing professionals to consistently think about accessibility, there’s the potential to impact both the business’ bottom line and make the web a more accessible place for those with disabilities.

Common accessibility issues

The most common accessibility faux pas are very easy to remedy. Here is a selection of the most common issues and the quick fixes for your content teams that can enhance your site without the need for significant investment or require developer input.

Link descriptions: Customers relying on their keyboard or a screen reader find that non-descriptive text in hyperlinks, like “Read More”, make navigation challenging. Often the size of the link area on the page can be too small too. The simple fix, though, is to be as descriptive as possible with linked text and make sure they are big enough before publishing.

Using headings properly: Often pages contain a lot of content, but without properly organised headings, those navigating the page with a screen reader can find it impenetrable. Quite often the H1 to H6 headings are used incorrectly, in a way that only considers those viewing the page visually. By using these appropriately however, a ton of issues can be fixed.

Image alt text: By not providing alternative image text for those using a screen reader, or if that text is too limited or too expansive, customers with disabilities can find it difficult to understand the context of a page. Ensuring this alt text is descriptive, concise and appropriate (i.e. leaving the alt attribute empty if the image is purely decorative) can have a quick and positive impact.

Contrast on text: In the WebAim Million report, a huge 85 percent of homepages had a low colour contrast on text, making it difficult to read for those with poor eyesight or those who are colour blind. This can be easily remedied on a page-by-page basis, or across an entire site.

Using automated and manual tests to identify easily rectifiable accessibility issues, such as the above, can make it quick and simple to ensure your website is as accessible as possible.

No brainer

By taking simple steps, every business can make their small section of the web more accessible, while expanding their commercial potential.

For those businesses looking to make incremental gains, a focus on accessibility can broaden their online customer base by making their products and services more readily available to almost 15 million users. All the while, these improvements will make the world wide web a better place for those with any kind of disability.

And it doesn’t have to be a structural redevelopment of your website. The common accessibility issues can be solved by having an awareness of the everyday accessibility issues, and then using the tools at your disposal, probably in your CMS, to publish content in the most accessible way.

As an organisation, we are working towards creating a truly inclusive CMS that helps users to be better informed to step out of their own perspective. Our team is encouraged to think about features that will benefit everyone because accessible products benefit everyone – both businesses and individuals with disabilities.

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