Brands risk losing billions if they don’t improve online accessibility

Brands need to ensure their websites are accessible to disabled people or risk losing out on £249bn a year.

digital retailIs your website digitally accessible? This relatively simple question should spark a long list of ways that your brand is ensuring disabled people don’t face barriers online, but does it?

According to the disability charity Scope, a shocking 98% of homepages across 1 million popular websites failed to meet legal accessibility standards in early 2019.

Speaking at The Festival of Marketing last week, the charity explained the importance of digital accessibility and underscored the fact that all too often disabled people are disabled by design.

This mean it is not their condition that disables them, it’s the design of the world. And in this case specifically your brand’s website design.

First, it’s important to note that disability encompasses a huge range of people and a wide range of needs including those with impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, and deafness or impaired hearing.

For every company that promises it wants to make the world a better place there is a website locking out disabled people. Brands need to do better – and fast – but despite the overwhelming moral case there is also a business one too.

According to Scope, the total spending power of families with at least one disabled person is estimated at £249bn a year. This ‘purple pound’ represents a huge amount of lost income from an underrepresented consumer.

More than one in five potential UK consumers have a disability, which works out at approximately 8% of children, 19% of working-age adults and 45% of pension-age adults.

These disabled people and their families are also not willing to put up with the barriers – and nor should they. Three-quarters of disabled people and their families have walked away from a UK business because of poor accessibility or customer service and businesses lose approximately £2bn a month by ignoring the needs of disabled people.

How you can become more accessible

Keep it simple. This includes both the design and language of your website. Accessibility doesn’t have to be hard.

The government has a helpful acronym for those companies starting out: POUR. Its website content accessibility guidelines suggest four key pillars – perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

Perceivable highlights that your information and website design must be made in a way that all senses can comprehend. This includes users easily being able to change the text to large print, braille, speech or symbols, and ensuring the contrast of your colours doesn’t affect those with low vision.

Operable ensures that everyone – no matter their disability – can access your brand online. Abilitynet.org.uk suggests unplugging the mouse to ensure the website can be fully navigated and interacted with via buttons, links and forms just by using the keyboard.

Users must also be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface. When you consider that the average UK reading age is nine years old, its importance becomes even more stark. Start by using simple language, predictable navigation and easy ways to help users prevent mistakes.

Lastly, websites should be robust enough that they can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of assistive technologies which can include screen readers, screen enlargement applications and voice programmes.

Even when these have been done, brands should be ready to accept help on how to improve. Have contact details where people can email about accessibility and make a point of showing those 75% of disabled people and families who walk away that you are keen to hear their opinion. There is always room for improvement and acknowledging that accessibility is important will improve both your brand and awareness about the issue.

Lastly, but crucially, hire more disabled people. Disabled people are still perceived as less employable than their non-disabled counterparts and this needs to change. Time and time again diversity has been shown as the key to better marketing and disability shouldn’t be forgotten within that.

Website accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought and having a more diverse workforce will ensure that you are not letting these issues slip through the cracks.  Plus, partner with charities – the Scope’s The Big Hack is a good start – to bring your website into the 21st century.

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