Digital accessibility means making your digital products (websites, mobile apps and other digital tools and technologies) accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities.
In these unpredictable and unprecedented times, many people with disabilities are bearing the brunt of all the negative effects.
So, now is the perfect time for founders and business leaders to take digital accessibility seriously.
There are 3 reasons you should use this as an opportunity to emerge from these challenging times stronger than before:
1. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people with disabilities and they need digital accessibility now more than ever.
In a recent survey by Flatten Inaccessibility, 60% of the people with disabilities with one or more underlying health conditions felt they would be particularly vulnerable if exposed to COVID-19.
As a result, most were very concerned about the risks associated with touching things in public like elevator panels or restroom doors to check signage (think of someone blind navigating these scenarios), as well as taking public transit, paratransit, taxis, and/or rideshare services such as Uber or Lyft.
And, although over 90% had internet access at home and owned a smartphone, most encountered issues with digital access impacting their ability to work from home, access online education, and take care of basic necessities like ordering groceries online.
In other words, digital inaccessibility during COVID-19 has put people with disabilities in an even more precarious position, where endangering their health and safety is often necessary to access services they want or need like everyone else.
Therefore, businesses should be asking “is my product or service accessible to all, including people with disabilities?”
More importantly, if your product or service is designed to enhance the lives of the people you serve, then who are you putting at a disadvantage when your product or service is not accessible?
And what impact could that have on the course of their life… on their access to opportunities for growth, independence, education, health and prosperity?
Thriving in business during this time is about leading with empathy.
It’s about answering questions like, “What can I do to help?” and “How can I do a better job of serving?”.
Not necessarily, “What can I do to change the world?”.
But rather, “What can my brand do to create a more inclusive experience and add value to the lives of everyone I reach?”.
A good place to start is in making sure that whatever you’re designing, building and selling can be used by all, including people with disabilities.
That includes your products, services, apps, website, videos, podcasts, PDFs and everything you use to market and deliver whatever it is you sell.
Those that lead with empathy and take the needs of people with disabilities seriously will be actively rewarded with the loyalty of not only people with disabilities, but their friends, family, and everyone who recognizes that inclusion is not optional.
Those who don’t will be sidelined.
Or worse, kicked out of the game altogether, which brings me to reason #2:
2. Digital accessibility lawsuits were steadily increasing before the pandemic
And will likely increase even more as we start to settle into a new “COVID-19 normal”.
Now is the time to make sure that your business isn’t vulnerable to a disability discrimination lawsuit.
The world is not yet fully out of lockdown, but the lawsuit brought against Duke University by the National Federation of the Blind and Mary Fernandez, a blind MBA student at Duke, is definitely out of lockdown.
Duke University was sued for failing to ensure that blind students can properly access digital content on an equal basis with students without disabilities.
According to Virginia Knowlton Marcus, CEO of Disability Rights North Carolina,
“The failure to provide blind students with timely, accessible course materials and career services not only harms their educational experience, it puts their future career and economic self-sufficiency at risk.”
Again, this ties into the systemic effects that a lack of access has had on people with disabilities. Access to information. Access to goods and services. Access to education. Access to healthcare. Access to enlightening experiences.
A lack of access to these things means the difference between poverty and prosperity. It means the difference between having options and having none.
So it is reasonable to expect that these issues will continue to be fought in courts.
In case you don’t know, digital accessibility lawsuits in the USA increased more than 3600% in the 4 short years between 2015 and 2018.
More and more countries are adopting laws and policies that require businesses to make their websites and digital assets accessible to people with disabilities.
People with disabilities view it as a human right. So does the United Nations.
So as long as businesses fail to recognize this, the lawsuits will continue to pile up.
Making sure your business is not caught in the lawsuit pile-on is a wise move. Litigation is the last thing most businesses are in a position to afford right now.
But if you’re still not convinced that this is the right time to put digital accessibility first, consider this:
3. Disability is a $4.5 trillion market in the US, and an $8 trillion market globally.
Here is a breakdown of the statistics, according to The Global Economics of Disability 2016 report by Return on Disability:
In the USA,
- 1 in 4 people have a disability… Almost 65 million people.
- They control roughly $645 billion in disposable income.
- But when you add the purchasing power of their friends, caregivers and family, that number jumps to more than $4.5 trillion.
- 1 in 5 people have a disability… Over 1 billion people.
- They control roughly $1.2 trillion in disposable income.
- But when you add the purchasing power of their friends, caregivers and family, that number is more than $8 trillion.
$8 trillion is also the anticipated economic cost of COVID-19 over the next TEN years in the US alone.
But most businesses are clueless to the fact that this same figure… $8 trillion… represents the global ANNUAL economic purchasing power of people with disabilities and those that love them, care for them and spend on behalf of them.
That doesn’t even include the purchasing power of baby boomers, the group with the largest disposable income, and the fact that they are also approaching their senior years, where the likelihood of developing a disability significantly increases.
So for businesses that are clued in, there is a MASSIVE opportunity.
For example, companies like Zoom have been doing exceedingly well during this pandemic, not only because of the rise in the need for online web conferencing, but because of the usability of the product which was built with accessibility in mind.
Zoom was one of the top ten most-downloaded apps worldwide in March 2020, with daily active users jumping from 10 million to over 200 million in just 3 months. None of their competitors made the top ten.
They have built a reputation among people with disabilities as a company that has focused on accessibility, ease of use and inclusion, and are firmly entrenched in this $8 trillion market as an accessible go-to vendor. Many of their key competitors are not.
The lesson is simple. It’s smart business to build brand loyalty and increase market share by being socially and ethically responsible, developing products that meet the needs of people with disabilities and marketing your products and services to people with disabilities.
In this day and age, it’s just bad business to do otherwise.
Whether you’re a startup founder, small business or large corporation, the current state of affairs is one in which there is no playbook on how to adjust or manage, let alone thrive.
But as a wise man once said, the shrewd one sees the danger and takes the necessary protective action.
Any business that wants to weather this storm and come out on the side of the “new normal” in a stronger position, is wise to put the wants, needs, and rights of the people they aim to serve first.
Not profits first… not bottom line first… people first… all people.
Failing to do so means putting your business in danger for all the reasons outlined above.
The businesses that not only survive, but thrive will be:
- The businesses that lead with empathy.
- The businesses that demonstrate they care about inclusion.
- The businesses that work hard to give value to people first, recognizing that in doing so, the profits will follow.
We are in an era where demonstrating corporate social responsibility should no longer take a backseat. Instead of adding it to the mix once you “get off the ground”, build it in from the ground up.
It is a mindset shift that should be baked into the way you do business. Each and every day.
Digital accessibility is one of the simple, key initiatives that you can implement as part of that commitment to be socially responsible.
So if you haven’t done so already, take a look at how you can build accessibility and inclusive design into the very essence of the way you do business at every stage: from ideating, to research, to product/service design, to testing, to marketing, to delivery, to support.
Research the topic of digital accessibility, and look for ways that your business can better serve the needs of all and add value to a wider market.
Do it now, not later.
Do it now.
Customer loyalty towards your brand will follow… and so will the profits.