These days, Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) is an integral part of any self-respecting business strategy. Companies spend an estimated $8bn* and I&D consultancy earnings total $400m- $600m** annually, in the US alone. But there’s a big but…. Companies often devote great time and resources to creating a fairer culture across business development, transforming departments, corporate culture and sustainability, but forget one key area that can have enormous impact – positive or negative – on equality and revenue streams: the website.
Websites are the ‘shopfront’ of businesses. Enterprises from the humblest local store, leisure centre or restaurant to major corporations use them to convey who they are and their values. For customers, the website is often the first – or only – port of call, especially during and post-pandemic. In addition, the online world is a big part of working life. Employees need to access and navigate websites to do jobs effectively. Websites that are easy to use encourage customers, help employees and, ultimately, boost sales. Difficult-to-fathom ones do the opposite. And what is a pain for the non-disabled is often a mountain-sized obstacle for people with various disabilities. All of which can make a website a force for inclusion or exclusion.
Charity Scope’s studies show there are 14.1 million disabled people just in the UK. Of these, eight per cent are children, 19 per cent working age adults and 46 per cent pensioners. At east 4.4 million are currently in work. The term disability itself covers a diverse range, from physical to sensory to learning disabilities to age-related deterioration. All possible limitations need to be taken account of in creating websites. Put pragmatically, we are all, in a sense, customers. People with disabilities must be able to access websites, as participants in modern life, to work and as customers. It makes sense, then, that companies pursuing inclusion and diversity agendas should make their websites fully accessible. But only 40 per cent of the Alexa Top 100 websites currently are – showing the needs of people with disabilities are often not met.
Yet, as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C) of the World Wide Web Consortium, and ‘father’ of the World Wide Web says, ‘The power of the Web is its universality’.
What does fully accessible mean?
Web accessibility, according to W3C, means websites, tools and technologies designed and developed so everyone can use, interact with and contribute to them, including people with visual, cognitive, auditory, speech and physical disabilities. It means people who face less obvious barriers. Incorporating flashing lights in a website, for example, might make the site impossible for epileptics to use. Non-disabled people also benefit from greater accessibility, W3C points out. People in rural areas, say. Those with temporary disabilities, or declining abilities from old age. Even – through accessible fonts – smart- phone, TV and watch users.
W3C, the main international standards body for the internet, publishes guidelines aimed at website/tool authors, developers and technicians who need a standard for accessibility. It publishes other materials for policymakers and managers. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) explain how to produce content (eg text, images, sound, code or markup defining structure and presentation) that works for all. WCAG’s four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust, are measured by three levels of success criteria: A, AA and AAA. For further details check out.
Lest anyone think this is teaching granny to suck the proverbial eggs, a 2021 study of the top one million home pages by WebAIM of Utah State University using automated technology, found 51.5 million accessibility errors under WCAG criteria in 2021. Users with disabilities could expect to find detectable errors on one in every 17 home page elements.
But accessible websites don’t just boost business and diversity. Nowadays, there is an added reason to get it right. Use of the web is increasingly deemed to be a human right, especially in the USA. More than 3,550 digital accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2020 under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a 25 per cent rise from 2019. Some experts see this as a continuing upward trend.
How to ensure your site is accessible and WCAG compliant?
As one step, many companies include an accessibility statement on their website. These multi-purpose tools describe things like goals, achievements and the guidelines being followed. They might inform disabled visitors about accessible/less accessible parts of the website and what is being done to improve things. They demonstrate commitment and basic customer care.
If all the above seems daunting, there are many resources available such as WCAG to assist creators, technicians, managers and policymakers.
Download Web Accessibility Checklist
Leaning heavily on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the world’s gold standard of accessibility,Word & Pixel has produced its own simple checklist to help ensure your website is fully accessible.
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*WorkforceManagement.com & McKinsey
** Human Resource Management Journal