Founder and CEO of Equally AI, a world-class, secured, convenient, and modern web accessibility experience for beneficiaries and businesses.
For most people, the internet is a ubiquitous social hub, economic driver and professional facilitator as billions of people access web content every day. In fact, about 30% of U.S. adults say they are online “almost constantly.” However, these opportunities are significantly more limited for the more than 36 million blind people who operate in a digital-first landscape with few resources to navigate this environment without compromise.
While assistive technologies like screen readers have improved the capacity for visually impaired people to interact with the internet, existing solutions are far from adequate. As one Wired headline laments, “The internet is for everyone, right? Not with a screen reader.” According to an annual analysis by WebAim of more than one million home pages, just 2.6% meet popular accessibility standards, and “accessibility blocks” — coding errors that restrict a screen reader’s usability — are everywhere.
The experience is akin to a store offering customers wheelchairs and ramps while configuring its aisles too narrowly for them to pass. If a service doesn’t comprehensively solve a problem, its efficacy is limited at best.
Better software solutions can bridge the gap for today’s digital platforms, providing simple yet advanced web interfaces that promote accessibility and inclusivity. Unfortunately, many SMBs and even large corporations lack the financial resources or technical know-how to achieve compliance without fundamentally compromising the website’s experience.
The recent pandemic makes this even more urgent as “digital-first” now applies to everything from social engagement to professional responsibilities. To truly make the web a more inclusive place, we need to all be on a mission to create a solution-driven web experience that will be loved and endorsed by people with visual impairments.
In my own team’s experience, during the last two years we’ve met with people with disabilities and we have since been learning from these one-on-one experiences about how people with vision impairments use the web. It became apparent that the experience blind people have with the web seemed much worse than any other group of people with disabilities.
In my view, accessibility is a choice, and it’s one that today’s digital platforms can integrate by design. As businesses become digital-first, they have several reasons to prioritize web accessibility.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines set clear expectations for businesses. Companies that fail to comply can face customer backlash and legal ramifications. In fact, Schiff Hardin reports that “U.S. companies have been inundated with lawsuits in the past several years alleging that their websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiffs claim that the websites do not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)… because visually impaired consumers allegedly cannot access the sites using screen-reader software.”
Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) already lack the financial resources of their corporate counterparts, making compliance violations a potentially costly penalty. At the same time, making web platforms accessible to blind people can be a competitive differentiator that allows SMBs to reach more people.
2. Customer Retention
Customers recognize businesses that cater to their needs. In contrast, when websites fail at accessibility from the start, they risk driving away potential new customers.
If a website is not easily navigated by a person with a disability, they may be forced to find an alternative — or they may choose to do so because of their negative experience. It’s a dichotomous choice. Companies can choose to make accessibility a priority, or they will undermine bottom-line priorities.
Of course, while money is a powerful motivator, it’s also true that accessibility is a matter of conscience. If the internet is for everyone, then businesses need to make accessibility for everyone a priority.
Since the web is primarily a visual medium, this means implementing solutions that account for this dynamic and allow blind people to engage and interact with visual mediums without compromising functionality. When businesses make their websites accessible to everyone, they tangibly and practically say, “I care.”
How Companies Can Respond
Taken together, it’s clear that there are several reasons businesses should embrace accessibility for people with visual impairments. For leaders looking to take the next steps, here are three ways to proceed.
1. Identify the motivation.
We need to consider how to make the internet an amazing experience for people with disabilities in general, and blind people in particular. Strive to create an experience that is loved by people with visual impairments, knowing that a more accessible digital experience benefits everyone.
2. Invest in effective tools.
Today’s technology has the capacity to produce ubiquitous web accessibility, and there is a comprehensive product ecosystem that supports web accessibility for blind people. Categorically, these include manual, automated and hybrid solutions. While each category includes inherent opportunities, be wary of free solutions that, over the long term, may result in a net negative experience for blind people, ultimately doing more harm than good.
3. Implement the solutions.
Web accessibility isn’t tomorrow’s problem. It’s today’s imperative, and companies should assess their standing and determine meaningful next steps.
For some, the next steps require them to understand the financial implications, leaving space in the budget for developers, designers and content creators to generate holistically accessible digital platforms. For others, they need an off-the-shelf solution that easily integrates with their existing digital efforts.
Regardless of the decision, the time for action is now. In the digital age, web accessibility should be a right, not a privilege. When more people adopt these solutions, accessibility increases in a cascading movement that makes the internet more free, fair and accessible to everyone.