It is all-too-easy to get caught up in the design of digital media—beautiful websites, apps, and emails that frequently leave functionality and accessibility as an afterthought. 

What many organizations do not realize is that digital accessibility is just as important as physical accessibility like wheelchair ramps or accessible pedestrian signals. It is critical to ensure all of your web and digital content is accessible to maintain compliance with requirements from governing bodies and, even more importantly, to ensure a positive customer experience.

Keep reading to discover why digital accessibility is important, how it can impact your organization, and how it will shape the future of digital design and web development.

Why is digital accessibility important?

Approximately 15% of the world’s population currently has a recognized disability (The World Bank, 2018). If your organization does not adapt to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities, that is a significant proportion of consumers who cannot access pertinent information about your organization and, ultimately, cannot take further action such as making a purchase.

The AODA Act on a computer monitor

Various governing bodies globally have similar requirements for accessibility, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) in Ontario, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States. Most require that, by law, organizations must ensure any owned web content (spanning websites, digital applications, and other media) is accessible. Organizations are required to comply with the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in order to ensure that those with disabilities have barrier-free access to activities and opportunities, recognizing that these users should have equal opportunity to interact with web-based content and applications as easily as others.

5 Ways Digital Accessibility Impacts Organizations

Besides meeting legal requirements, organizations that adapt to accessibility guidelines (and beyond) can experience many positive impacts on their business.

1. Accessibility Impacts Your Organization’s Bottom Line

In a world where online shopping has become part of daily life, it is critical that eCommerce brands remove barriers that prevent users with disabilities from completing a transaction. These online storefronts are essentially “closed” to a whole population of individuals if they do not adapt to offer inclusive browsing and checkout experiences, which may result in substantial losses for an eCommerce store’s bottom line.

Even if your organization is not eCommerce-focused, it is imperative that your organization’s website is easy to navigate and readily accessible. Individuals who visit your website to learn more about your organization or to find important information pertaining to your services may not be able to find what they are looking for—meaning they may ultimately take their business elsewhere.

2. Accessibility Influences Brand Reputation

In a highly competitive digital market, organizations need to be extra conscious of their brand image. If a user has a poor experience on your website, it can rapidly translate to a poor overall experience with your brand.

Purolator website on tablet

An accessible website creates an inclusive environment that respects the individual needs of users. Making your website accessible not only creates a positive experience for people with disabilities, but also generates support from socially-conscious consumers and advocates. Those who have positive experiences on your website are more likely to speak highly of your brand and recommend your organization to others—creating brand loyalists and expanding reach to drive new and repeat business.

3. Accessibility Impacts User Experience

In general, accessible content has better functionality and adaptability for all users, with or without disabilities. To stay relevant within a competitive digital market, brands frequently invest in updates, “facelifts”, or complete overhauls to make their websites and applications responsive, lightning-fast, and optimized for search. These improvements go hand-in-hand with the necessary changes required to meet accessibility guidelines, improving the experience holistically for any user, not just those with disabilities.

The same holds true with email marketing. While often beautiful by design, sending emails that are predominantly image-based can seriously impact the number of individuals who are able to access your emails—not just limited to those who rely on screen readers. 

By increasing the use of live (HTML-based) text and alt text within an email, users who have a poor cell signal, frequently experience rendering issues, or have their images turned off to save on mobile data usage, will still receive the same message as those who can see the images. 

4. Accessibility Drives Innovation

When digital accessibility is kept top-of-mind throughout planning and strategizing instead of being left as an afterthought, social and digital barriers that impede innovation are reduced or removed. This allows for creative thinking and strategy development that improve the ways in which users interact with websites, applications, and other digital media to deliver an intuitive experience for users with or without disabilities. These broader applications create memorable experiences that are innovative, humanized, and much more natural.

5. Accessibility Impacts Search Engine Discoverability

Like those who may be hearing or visually impaired, search engines cannot see or hear multimedia content—they are unable to gather a message directly from an image, listen to audio, or watch videos. By incorporating descriptive alt text on your images and transcripts for your videos, you are not only creating accessible content for your users, but also maximizing your search engine discoverability and increasing market reach.

Man smiling and using a tablet

How Digital Content Accessibility will Shape the Future of Web Design & Development

Following semantic structure (such as proper heading hierarchy) is an accessibility guideline that also aids in improving search engine optimization (SEO). Semantics help users who require screen readers to navigate through content in a logical manner in addition to helping search engines crawl through your site and understand the function and importance of specific sections on your pages.

1. A Change In Standard Design Processes

Accessibility can no longer be an afterthought, and must be woven into the strategic planning and design of all websites, from the start through to completion. The speed at which web accessibility can improve is lightning fast compared to the necessary changes brick-and-mortar businesses have established, meaning businesses will have fewer challenges when adopting an accessibility-first approach.

2. Improved Competency

Soon enough, digital accessibility will be so commonplace that designers, developers, and marketers will have an inherent understanding of the role of accessibility both inside and outside of the digital landscape. These learnings will always be kept top-of-mind instead of being an afterthought, resulting in much more seamless experiences for everyone.

3. Dedicated Staff

Since accessibility is now a legal requirement for most organizations, dedicated personnel are now needed to ensure compliance is maintained and other team members are sufficiently trained in the most up-to-date regulations.

The Benefits of Implementing Accessibility

As a socially conscious and responsible organization, your website and digital marketing materials need to be accessible. Keeping accessibility at the forefront of your web or email strategy can help create exceptional, inclusive experiences that are memorable for your audience, with or without disabilities. 

If you are looking to make your website and digital media more accessible, contact Northern today.