3 Reasons Your Startup Can’t Afford to Ignore Digital Accessibility

person using phone and laptop — photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Today marks the seventh annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day which aims to get the design, development, usability, and related communities talking about digital accessibility and inclusion.

Prior to my work with Aleria, I can honestly say that digital accessibility was never made a priority within my other startups. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall it ever coming up.

I was a champion for women in tech and prided myself on creating a diverse startup community, mentoring others, and organizing educational events. But my inclusion efforts fell short and didn’t proactively involve or remove barriers for those with disabilities. Over the last few months, as I’ve jumped into the D&I industry and had the opportunity to learn from incredible thought leaders, I’ve recognized gaps in my awareness and ways that I can build more inclusive companies and solutions going forward.

So today, I’m reaching out to my community of entrepreneurs, developers, designers, and product managers to build further awareness and show you exactly why your company can’t afford to ignore digital accessibility.

Understanding Digital Accessibility

Digital accessibility refers to the ability of a website, mobile application or electronic document to be easily accessed, navigated, and understood by a wide range of users, including those who have visual, physical, cognitive, or auditory disabilities.

consider those that have visual, physical, cognitive, or auditory disabilities

An estimated 13% of the U.S. population identifies as having a disability.

It is our job to remove barriers that prevent everyone from fully engaging with our technology. When responsibly designed and coded, digital content can provide equal access to information and functionality to people of all abilities.

While you may not be able to address each possible need right away, your startup needs to make digital accessibility a priority. Here’s why:

It is illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA” 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.) was intended to ensure that people living with disabilities have access to all of the same opportunities as those without disabilities.

“No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” — 42 U.S. § Code 12182

While some amendments were passed in 2008, the ADA didn’t originally and doesn’t yet specifically define what this means in the digital world. However, a standard has been adopted and enforced by the DOJ based on suggestions of the World Wide Website Consortium (“W3C”).

They specifically cite Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) Version 2.0 AA in a 2010 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The W3C has developed the WCAG to help website developers ensure their content is accessible to all users. The guide is intended to provide a technical standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations and governments internationally.

Some states within the U.S. also have laws in place to prevent disability discrimination and ensure digital accessibility. The Disabled Persons Act in California is an example of such a law.

Globally, you’ll find that many other countries have already adopted similar legislation that specifically addresses digital accessibility.

Beyond the ADA, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) of 2010 says that products and services that use broadband, including video programming on television and the Internet, should be fully accessible to people with disabilities.

Further, an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508, mandates that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities.

Mitigate regulatory, litigation and reputational risks

While the laws are still a bit fuzzy, we’re seeing a steady increase in the number of actual lawsuits. In 2015 there were at least 57 disability-related discrimination lawsuits. In 2016 there were at least 262.

Specifically related to digital accessibility, there have been a few high-profile cases in recent years. As an example, in 2008 there was a lawsuit against Target regarding the inaccessibility of their website. And in 2012 a federal court in Massachusetts ruled that the ADA covered Netflix’ streaming video service.

Staying ahead of digital accessibility legal trends and legislation changes is a wise business strategy. If you have technology barriers that prevent equitable access, it’s not hard to see how this discrimination could lead to costly litigation and settlements, as well as irreversible damage to your company’s reputation.

Increased pool of potential customers

Simply put, this is also just good for business. 71% of web users with a disability will simply leave a website that is not accessible. If digital accessibility is not a priority for your team, you are losing that business.

People with disabilities are a part of a significant community of consumers that should not be overlooked. According to U.S. census data, the population of people who use assistive technology to navigate the internet is a $350 billion market and growing as the population ages.

Domestically the disability community is made up of 56 million people. Globally it’s estimated at 1 billion people.

Prioritizing digital accessibility within your organization, allows this large market to benefit from your products and services and enables you to make more money.

Make digital accessibility a priority today

As much as we are all trying to operate lean, it’s worth mentioning that prioritizing accessibility later in the product lifecycle will prove to be more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

Think of it this way: if you were building a house, you would look to install the light sockets and outlets before you hang the sheetrock. Similarly, the foundational development work for accessibility is much easier to tackle in the beginning stages of a product or website.

Don’t know where to start? If you’re interested in learning more and uncovering how you can make your technology accessible and usable by persons with disabilities, join the conversation today.

Experts will be sharing their advice and resources throughout the day as part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. A quick twitter search for #GAAD #Accessibility or #Digi4all will provide endless information, insight and inspiration.

As a diversity tech company that helps businesses plan, execute, and measure their diversity and inclusion initiatives, Aleria’s goal is to quantify the business value of D&I.

Our unique lens examines the quantitative side of D&I and explores some of the ripple effects and unintended consequences that make diversity and inclusion a complex and challenging endeavor.

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