More than just a greater good initiative, with an overwhelming majority of websites falling short of generally accepted guidelines, adopting an accessibility-first mindset may present a potent brand differentiation opportunity.
“Studies show that more than 96% of websites have accessibility issues,” Walden points out. “There are over a billion people in the world with permanent disabilities who might need to access digital content and functionality in different ways—and there's an even larger number of people with temporary or situational disabilities who would also benefit from accessible experiences, including our aging population.”
Beyond alt text, bigger font sizes and color contrast, the accessibility movement may also serve as a catalyst for revisiting our views on normalcy to begin with:
“’Normal’ leaves a lot of people out, and it isn’t, by itself, an inherent good,” writes Ashley Shew in a recent MIT Technology Review article. “We often devalue the creativity and intelligence of people outside that frame rather than appreciating them as creators, tinkerers, and knowers.”
So why have brands been slow to adopt an inclusion mindset? In short, it’s complicated.
“I feel like experiences keep getting less and less accessible over time since the advent of the internet because the complexity of the experience is increasing,” says Alison Walden. “But I feel like the root of the problem is that most teams creating the digital experiences today, they don't understand the variety of ways that people access those experiences that they're creating online.”
Luckily, there are some actionable ways brands can kickstart their accessibility journey:
“If we had more people with disabilities on teams creating digital experiences, then we would be able to benefit from their experience and insight," Walden points out. “We need to enable (people) through training, because training courses in universities and colleges have not caught up to digital accessibility. We need to enforce accessible ways of working, so thinking about accessibility from day one, not tacking it onto the end.”
“The big takeaway for me here is that accessibility is a human right,” adds Teresa Barreira, EVP/Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Publicis Sapient. “It’s something that has to be embedded into every company. I think that's really a mindset, and it has to be top down.”