Most organizations are either oblivious to, or terrified about, web accessibility.
They are probably aware that up to 20% of their customers – people with disabilities – could be clicking away from their websites, or leaving their mobile apps every day without having bought anything or found the information or service they wished to find.
They may have even heard from one of this 20%, complaining about problems they can’t reproduce, talking about ‘assistive technologies’ they don’t understand, and asking for what seem like impossible fixes.
They know there is the possibility of being sued if they don’t do the right thing, but they don’t know how far they need to go to prevent that. So if they do make something ‘accessible’, it’s usually only for one product, or one version of a product.
If this sounds anything like the place where you work, I have some comforting news: you are not alone.
I learned directly where I believe most organizations want to be from the heads of diversity and inclusion of the top blue-chip corporations in Europe at a meeting of the Vanguard Network in 2011. Here, the event’s chairwoman spent a whole hour asking each of the delegates what one thing would really make a difference to their organization’s inclusion practices, if they could achieve it. When delegates were asked to vote for which contribution they felt was the most important, the following was the unanimous choice: “What I want is to strategically embed inclusion into my organization’s culture and business-as-usual processes, rather than just doing another inclusion project.”
I spent much of my time subsequently conveying the following to the people in the room:
That they could implement a strategy that would allow them to attract and keep that 20% of their audience who are disabled, while not detracting from the user experience of those who aren’t.
That there was a way they could sleep soundly, knowing that they’d done enough to cover their ‘accessibility risk’, but without costing the earth.
That, through following a simple, strategic business-aligned framework, they could embed the best practice necessary to consistently achieve these aims throughout their organization.
And that all of this work could also benefit their organization in their bottom line, as benchmarked analytics show how disabled people’s increased use of their sites increases their turnover and profits.
What did I have that could take them from their position of pain to the place they all wanted to be? The answer is British Standard BS 8878:2010, Web Accessibility – Code of Practice.
It’s not the catchiest title in the world, but BS 8878 opens up in detail the strategies, policies and processes that award-winning, best-of-breed organizations like the BBC, IBM, Vodafone, Opera, BT and Lloyds Banking Group have used to become ‘accessibility competent and confident’, so that they can be used by any organization, no matter how big or small.
It does this at a time when the legal imperatives behind accessibility are being strengthened internationally, and when tablet and smartphone vendors are racing to promote accessibility as a key selling point of their handsets. It also does this as we start to enter the massive demographic change that will result in the number of people who need accessibility rocketing up, and the ‘missing 20%’ become 50%.
There has never been a better time to get into web accessibility, and people who have implemented BS 8878 are increasingly telling me that incorporating its user-centred inclusive design thinking into their production processes has resulted in not only more accessible websites and apps for disabled people, but better websites and apps for everyone.
NOTE: Professor Jonathan Hassell has more than 14 years’ experience of embedding accessibility within digital production teams in leading companies worldwide, and he wrote the British Standard BS 8878. This article is based on an edited extract of his new book “Including your missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility”, reproduced with permission from BSI.