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The Business Case for Accessible Design

In this second of our 3-part blog series on Digital Accessibility, we present the business case in favor of digital accessibility. In Part 1, we argued the moral imperative and studied the legal consequences for infringing this basic human right. Here, we argue in support of accessible design by examining the economic benefits for businesses in service to vast, underserved market segments..

Accessible Design Creates Market Opportunities

Doing the right thing brings its own reward. When we embed accessible design best practices into our software product development, we effect positive change in a world that desperately needs it.

Incorporating an accessibility mindset into the digital tools we build (to avoid the legal and financial risk of doing otherwise) is also a step in the right direction – even though it may not produce the same “feel good” moment inspired by the altruistic moral imperative.

Bringing software solutions to underserved markets not only yields trust, loyalty, and advocacy across broad swaths of our population; it also delivers immediate, significant, and enduring financial reward to the product builders.

Product managers and business leaders are forever seeking the next available market to serve; here’s 5 to choose from, and 5 more arguments for promoting accessible design.

Access to key market segments

The 1 Billion Users argument

What percentage of a 1 billion user market would impact your business’ bottom line?

That’s right. More than 1 billion people with disabilities around the globe have nearly zero access to digital products. This same population wields market power in excess of $490 billion. (source: WebAIM 2021)

Product builders generally make decisions to serve the largest portion of their audience. This inclusive design approach allows designers and developers to add features and functionality that serve the greatest number of users. It’s not only the wise approach from a market growth perspective. It’s the right approach in terms of granting people access to innovative and better solutions.

Because that’s what we do as product builders. When we envision a new digital product, we seek to solve identified challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is lack of access.

Inaccessible products are unusable products. Nonetheless, I hear counterarguments that typically go like this:

  • “‘People with disabilities’ is not our target market.”
  • “The size of markets represented by people with disabilities ‘doesn’t justify the investment.’”
  • “That ‘feature’ will be added to the roadmap in later releases.

Accessibility is not a feature. Accessibility is usability.

When we build people-centered products, we bring innovative solutions to complex problems. Digital solutions don’t ask whether their users have permanent, temporary, or situational disabilities. As we’ll see in part 3 of our series, the broad population of users benefit from the same solutions that were initially designed to benefit people with disabilities.

But an inclusive design mindset gets us only part of the way in tearing down these obstacles. Some user needs are more specific, more nuanced. In those cases, we also need to consider product decisions within the context of accessible design. Designing for accessibility shifts the task.

Instead of deciding which features to add, product builders can embed configuration settings directly into their products. This freedom allows users to choose for themselves how to interact in ways that address their specific, nuanced requirements.

User choice is the essence of accessible design.

The Pandemic / e-Commerce argument

The pandemic has unilaterally upended global culture in ways that no other event in our memory has. Its impact was immediate and life-altering. Shuddered in their homes to avoid personal contact, consumers flocked to an on-line environment to communicate, learn, shop, and work.

Less abrupt, but not without impact to e-commerce, was society’s more deliberate migration from a brick-and-mortar retail industry to remote shopping.

These circumstances exposed the online world’s general lack of accessibility, revealing the huge role it plays in product adoption. Accessible products (and those that worked to remediate the absence of accessibility over time) enjoyed a generous advantage as the pandemic unfolded, finding favor with broad market segments at an international level.

The products that failed the digital migration shake-out found themselves losing huge market share and on the wrong side of accessibility-related litigation.

The Older Adults argument

The United Nations predicts that 1 out of 6 people in the world will be over the age of 65 in 2050. In the U.S., that number jumps to 1 in 5. U.S. seniors (≥65 years of age) will outnumber children (≤18) by 2035.

As we age, we develop varying degrees of acquired disability; not surprisingly, the need for accessibility to accommodate acquired disabilities increases over time.

This may not represent a huge problem for our first generation of digital natives as they reach middle age; but it presents all sorts of challenges for “digital migrants.”

Embracing an aging consumer population will inure to the benefit of smart, successful, forward-thinking companies. And it will all but guarantee our own inclusion.

The Region argument

For example, some apps from the government contain information regarding Covid vaccines or certificates to circulate; they were often so “heavy” that we had to remove other apps just to download them. This, by the way, is an example of an environmental disability in which accessibility is limited because of a temporary change in the environment.

Requiring people to remove some apps to use another one is not the experience we envision during the product development process. And it may happen only in certain circumstances. But failing to consider the environment in which people engage with your product will no doubt result in people choosing other software solutions to perform the task they need.

Accessible code is more semantic code. It complies with other basic protocols that “reduces the weight” of your product and makes it more compatible with a broader type of devices. (See the scalability and compatibility argument, coming soon in part 3.)

Network infrastructure represents an additional blocker. We all know that adding images, graphics, and other visuals enhances the user experience. But if the network infrastructure is substandard, it may prevent you from even opening the image. We include alt text to provide necessary support to users who are blind or visually impaired; this is vital access to critical information that would otherwise be missed.

Finally, language presents another obstacle in getting your product to more users. It’s expensive to “localize” all your products; that is, make content available in various different languages. But if product builders apply the rules of plain language contain in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), that may help people with cognitive disabilities. In addition, automatic translation motors will be more precise.

Rules of plain language are spelled out in WCAG, which explains how to make web content and applications easier to read and understand for people with and without disabilities.

The Cost-Saving argument

A Forrester Research Economic Impact Study commissioned by Microsoft concluded that digital accessibility could contribute to cost savings when integrated into existing and ongoing development cycles.

Complex, code-heavy apps and platforms – particularly ones that undergo frequent code deployments – present huge opportunities for cost savings. By embedding accessible design into the product infrastructure at the start of the development process, product builders can reduce costs associated with downstream maintenance and refinements.

The study revealed that a robust accessibility strategy provided both tangible and intangible benefits to the workplace environment, including:

  • The same, cutting-edge technology solutions that support people with disabilities also helped the broader workforce.
  • Businesses that invest in and visibly support accessibility strategies enjoy greater workplace morale and employee satisfaction.
  • Technologies that support digital accessibility not only attract a greater audience of qualified candidates; they support employee retention.
  • Companies now celebrate savings in equipment costs, not having to replace employee devices as frequently.

Making the Business Case for Accessibility

In Part 1 of our Digital Accessibility blog series, I presented two arguments in support of accessible design: the Moral Imperative argument and the Legal argument.

Here, I make the business case for protecting this fundamental human right. Product people who acknowledge the 1 billion people with disabilities in our world – and serve their unique needs – will not only be doing the right thing; they’ll reap the benefits of the vast market opportunity before them.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our series, where I address the future of accessible design – especially how architects and developers look beyond today’s current challenges to examine their products’ scalability and extensibility. By preparing for future expansion, we are able to realize the benefits of their vision and foresight. Products initially developed to serve people with disabilities are now used throughout our society.


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Portrait Susana Pallero

Susana Pallero is a CPACC-certified Accessibility Solutions Specialist. She is also Subject Matter Expert at the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) and Collaborating member of the Silver Task Force Community at the W3C. She applies accessibility principles to the most diverse environments and tasks.

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