February 28, 2017

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Investing in accessibility engineering makes business sense

Co-author:Aravind Gorja

While accessibility engineering covers a much broader spectrum of the discussion surrounding accessibility, in this blog our focus is on information accessibility via channels of digital content consumption and software products (ICT) being used in workplace.

Investing in accessibility engineering for a web-content platform focused on consumer markets (the source of a larger share of your audience) may make business sense. A Microsoft-sponsored Forrester report indicates that:

57% of computer users are likely or very likely to benefit from the use of accessible technology

Further, the aging population with accessibility restrictions is steadily increasing worldwide. As a result, it is not always easy for a software technology company to dedicate engineering bandwidth to building enterprise products compliant to accessibility norms.

To start with, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes access to information and communications technologies (including the web) as a basic human right (Source: https://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility ) - making non-compliance a human-rights violation.

Accessibility is becoming a clear compliance requirement for web content, which effectively leads to long-drawn legal battles (thanks to unclear guidelines – for instance, the American Disability Act Guidelines are delayed and will not be available before 2018), huge penalties, and negative publicity. There has been a rapid increase in the number of lawsuits filed across the US, with 95% of website-access lawsuits filed in federal courts within these four states: California, Pennsylvania, New York, and Florida. In the first half of 2016, more than 3400 ADA related lawsuits were filed, an increase of 63% from 2015.

Source: http://www.adatitleiii.com/lawsuits-investigations-settlements/

Here are some quick stats you will find relevant while building software products or platforms for consumer markets:

  1. 44% of computer users need some form of accessible technology
  2. In UK, 75% of disabled people and their families have turned down a service provider because of poor disability awareness, at a cost of £21.6bn to businesses
  3. 20% of the UK workforce engaged in large businesses and public sector organizations have accessibility challenges

To promote diversity and inclusiveness, corporates are focusing on providing accessible technologies to their aging employees and disabled workforce. This boosts productivity, consequently increasing the demand for workplace technologies that are accessibility friendly. In fact, this is also improving productivity of the non-disabled workforce – 80% of private sector and 74% of public sector organizations agree that by addressing accessibility, they can create technology solutions that help the broader, nondisabled workforce as well: says Forrester.

In most product development organizations, therefore, Chief Accessibility officers (a position not common a couple of years back) or equivalent roles are evangelizing and driving the agenda, often furthering a corporate directive, of making all the products accessible. Most product organizations have started formulating their own accessibility guidelines and standards, which provide clarity to product engineering teams without them getting confused by international or localized versions.

Also, this has pushed engineering teams to integrate accessibility into the product development process – reducing overall costs. While incorporating accessibility engineering best practices might drive up product engineering costs in short-term, an integrated approach provides a better ROI than investing in a piecemeal model, focusing only on accessibility testing or post-development certification.

References:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/legalnewsline/2016/03/29/judges-handling-ada-lawsuits-over-websites-not-waiting-on-doj-regulations/#429014757287

https://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility

https://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/buildings-and-sites/about-the-ada-standards/background/adaag

http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article101089147.html

https://blogs.microsoft.com/eupolicy/2016/06/28/accessibility-in-the-workplace-a-competitive-edge/