The Importance of Digital Accessibility: How to Design for All Users
By Aniket Sompura
Websites have become more than just channels for information — they provide a gateway to opportunity and inclusion for people of all abilities. As organizations recognize the importance of reaching and serving diverse audiences, digital accessibility has become critical to successful digital strategies.
Yet, according to the 2023 WebAIM report on accessibility, 96.3% of the home pages of the top 1 million websites worldwide had detected Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) errors on them. These errors ranged from missing alternative text for images to missing form input labels and low-contrast text.
Findings like these indicate that organizations might not be aware of how vital digital accessibility truly is and how to design their websites for all users.
Why Enterprises Need to Think Accessibility-First
Accessibility isn’t something that enterprises should be considering after the fact, but rather an approach they should lead with if they want to operate more efficiently and generate more revenue.
Global Compliance Requirements
One of the more pressing reasons enterprises should focus on accessibility is that it is a global requirement with legal ramifications for not complying. Over 3,000 federal lawsuits were filed in the US against companies for failure to design websites with digital accessibility in mind in 2022, a 12% increase from 2021.
This number has increased steadily over the last few years and the focus has shifted mainly due to regulations, including WCAG. The negative impact is notable for businesses that fail to comply with these guidelines, with fines starting at $50,000 for first-time offenders.
Potential Business Opportunities
While not designing a website for people with disabilities can be problematic, designing with accessibility in mind can lead to tremendous opportunities. With 1.3 billion people, or 16% of people worldwide, suffering from disabilities, businesses can’t afford not to be accessibility-first.
Designing websites and other products so that more people can use them leads to increased revenue as companies can reach a larger, more inclusive audience.
Boost Reputation and Customer Trust
Businesses that choose to react to digital accessibility issues rather than being proactive and preparing for them ahead of time run the risk of damaging their reputation. Responding to customer complaints increases the likelihood of the financial penalties of lawsuits and that the brand might not recover from the negative publicity.
Meanwhile, companies that lead with digital accessibility are seen as more customer-centric and socially responsible. This improves their reputation, further earning the trust of customers and other stakeholders.
Steps to Improve Digital Accessibility
Given the drawbacks of not building with digital accessibility in mind and the benefits of being accessibility-first, there are a few steps businesses can take to improve the digital accessibility of their websites.
Assess All Potential Users
Being accessibility-first means designing for everyone, but particularly ensuring that your website meets the needs of people with disabilities. Not all disabilities are visible — they can vary from physical, emotional, cognitive, sensory, and developmental to situational (such as a broken arm) and have major impacts on quality of life.
These people won’t access websites the same way as everyone else, so you’ll need to design adaptable front-end experiences. In addition, users with slower internet connections or other technical limitations should be catered to during the design and development process.
Handle Layout and Navigation Challenges
The layout and navigation bar are the primary starting points for designing with accessibility in mind. Ensuring that there is clarity of headings, consistency in formatting, and any notifications are easy to read are some things that should be completed first.
Address Content Issues
Content should be legible with suitable colors and adaptive to different screen sizes to ensure that it meets the needs of everyone browsing the website. A content asset perfectly designed for a desktop won’t look the same if viewed on a mobile device.
Test for Usability
Companies should also conduct usability tests focusing on navigation and how users with different need and limitations might interact with the website. Performing these tests will ensure that anyone accessing the site can get the information they need.
Extending Customer Experience Benefits
Incorporating accessibility best practices and complying with WCAG guidelines not only protects businesses from legal action but also serves all users by prioritizing customer-centricity through an accessibility-first approach.
Designing with accessibility in mind beautifies the entire customer experience. Improvements to navigation and simplification of layouts enable users to find what they are looking for much faster.
Websites that load quickly to cater to customers in areas with poor connectivity can improve SEO results as fast loading times and better performance speeds align with Core Web Vitals and Page Experience requirements. Improved usability options, such as adding captions to video content, enable viewers who can’t listen with the volume to still consume content.
Ultimately, being accessibility-first provides a future-proof design that helps companies prepare for new channels and audiences ahead of time instead of having to react when it may already be too late.
Designing Digital Experiences for Everyone
When enterprises think of digital accessibility, the need to be compliant is often the first consideration that comes to mind. However, to truly embrace accessibility-first design for all users, it’s necessary to focus on the digital experience as a whole, not just compliance requirements.
As an enterprise digital consultancy, Content Bloom understands what’s required to design websites that everyone can use. We employ a range of disciplines within our UX practice, including wireframing, information architecture, content modeling, look-and-feel, analytics, and customer journey optimization. By seamlessly integrating these practices, we can optimize user experience for higher satisfaction, engagement, and conversion rates.
We also offer extensive headless CMS expertise in various platforms with solutions perfect for implementing websites that fit digital accessibility guidelines.
What is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility involves creating an inclusive online environment that eliminates barriers preventing people with physical and situational disabilities or socio-economic restrictions on bandwidth and speed from accessing or interacting with websites.
What are digital accessibility standards?
Digital accessibility standards refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an internationally recognized standard created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The aim is to establish guidelines for enhancing the accessibility of web content for people with disabilities.
What digital accessibility best practices should be considered?
The four main principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are based on the acronym POUR, which stands for Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. These principles provide a framework for creating web content that is accessible to all users.
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