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The Business Case for Web Accessibility

Posted by Nirmita Narasimhan at Dec 07, 2011 09:55 AM |
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NASSCOM Foundation has published a handbook on web accessibility titled "Understanding WebAccessibility — A Guide to create Accessible Work Environments". Nirmita Narasimhan authored a chapter "The Business Case for Web Accessibility".

The Internet is perhaps one of the most revolutionary things that happened for persons with disabilities. It has transformed their lives from one of ignorance and dependence to one of inclusion and participation. Using assistive technologies, blind persons can now read newspapers and information on websites, deaf persons can understand video content through captioning and persons with different disabilities can access computers in a variety of ways. However, despite these exciting developments in assistive technologies, the relative inaccessi-bility of websites remains a severe impediment to disability access to the internet.

There may be several reasons for complying with web accessibility. These may be:

  • Social (i.e. acknowledging the right of persons with disabilities to have equal access to information and opportunities offered by the internet);
  • Legal reasons (i.e. complying with national guidelines, policies or laws);
  • Technical (i.e. ensuring increased interoperability, reducing server load, time taken in website maintenance and better quality websites); and
  • Business (i.e. realizing that having an accessible website makes good business sense).

This article focuses on the last reason, i.e. business drivers for web accessibility.

Web accessibility means that a website can be accessed completely by all users, regardless of disability or any disabling factor such as illiteracy, old age or limited bandwidth. Compliance with the Web Content Access Guidelines (WCAG) will ensure that a website will be equally accessible to all disabled users, irrespective of the type of disability (visual, motor, auditory, cognitive or persons who are prone to seizures). Contrary to common belief, an accessible website is not necessarily a boring one. In fact, often times, the difference between an accessible and an inaccessible website may not be evident visually, but only upon use.

It is important for business houses to bear in mind that making websites accessible not only benefits persons with disabilities, but is helpful to every user. For instance, captioning of videos for the deaf will also benefit illiterate persons and persons having limited bandwidth, who constitute a sizeable percentage of the Indian population. Furthermore, nearly everyone benefits from clearly structured content, easy navigation and illustrated graphics. There are over a billion persons with disabilities living around the world, over 70 million in India alone and some surveys also estimate that one fifth of internet users have some form of disability or disabling condition. Hence companies which ensure that their web sites are accessible will be assured of a much wider reach than companies whose websites are not accessible.

An important aspect of creating an accessible website is that if a website is designed and developed in an accessible manner from the very beginning, its cost would exceed the cost of creating an inaccessible web site by perhaps merely 2%. However, on the other hand, if one were to have to retrofit accessibility features into a website, the cost and effort would be the same as that of creating an entirely new site. Furthermore, while the website would become accessible, the maintenance and day to day activities on it would also need to continue to be accessible. An accessible web site enhances ease of maintenance and scalability. Companies must also ensure that the developers maintaining the website must have a good understanding of WCAG.

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of having an accessible web site is that it also increases its chances of ranking and visibility amongst search engines. There is a significant overlap between guidelines for accessibility and SEO. For instance, both of them require alternative text for graphics, clearly defined heading structures, identification of language of pages and page content, descriptive links etc. Having an accessible website will ensure that it can be accessed on new browsing technologies and platforms, like mobile phones and PDAs. Not only is navigation and usability enhanced, but the separation of content from presentation drastically reduces the download time of accessible web sites, rendering it a pleasurable experience for users to visit the web site.

There is a clear business case in creating products and web sites which are accessible. This is evident in the fact that some of the largest and most successful companies in the world have incorporated accessibility and universal design in their products and services. For instance,

  • Apple has been committed to accessibility since 1985     and its accessibility website3 features all its accessibility    technologies for persons with disabilities as well as other third party products. Apple has integrated universal access into its operating system so that they are usable with Apple and other products.
  • The accessibility statement on the web site of General Electric4 gives details of its ongoing work on the accessibility of its website and a disabled user can track the company's progress by reading this page. It also provides a help facility for persons who are unable to use the site due to access problems.
  • A stunning example of a company which has made huge business profits through application of universal design principles in its products is that of NTT DoCoMo which came out with its accessible line of mobile phones called the “Raku-Raku” phone and rapidly captured the majority market share of mobile     phones in Japan. The company has sold up to 20 million5    handsets as of July 2011 since its    inception and released 18 models.
mobile accessibility

Some further examples of companies which are committed to accessibility are Cisco Systems Inc.6, AT&T Services Inc.7, France Telecom8, Google9, Hewlett-Packard10, IBM11, Microsoft Corporation12, Nokia13 and  Vodafone14. The web sites of these companies have detailed information on the key areas of their accessibility work. 

It is therefore clear that companies are increasingly recognizing the wisdom of unlocking their content to a larger audience. Not only do they increase their customer base, but also are able to garner loyalty from their customers as well as bolster their image by showing consideration towards customers with different needs. 

The publicity that can be leveraged by business houses on account of their commitment to accessibility and inclusion will go a long way in building a good and lasting relationship with their customers. Hence, companies are strongly urged to make a concerted effort to promote web accessibility through awareness, internal policies and providing requisite training and support. In a world where policy makers are also increasingly becoming aware of the need for web accessibility and mandating it through policies, it will become inevitable for both public and private organizations to have websites which are universally accessible.

Read the original published by NASSCOM Foundation here

Download the entire book here (PDF, 1570 kb)


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