Boost Accessibility in 2024: Digital Accessibility Strategies for Success No Matter Where You’re Starting
Dec 19, 2023
The results are in, and the data is clear: digital accessibility is an increasing priority and a business best practice across industries, for companies of all sizes. For our Fifth Annual State of Digital Accessibility Report, we surveyed over 1,000 professionals, including over 500 senior managers and executives at enterprise organizations, to understand what’s working, and what’s not, for organizations across industries, of many different sizes. The overall picture our data paints is an encouraging one:
- 85% of respondents consider digital accessibility a competitive advantage for their organization.
- Seven in 10 respondents say their organization has a digital accessibility policy in place.
- Nearly three-quarters of respondents say their organization has an individual or department centrally accountable for digital accessibility adoption, an important marker of accessibility maturity in our experience.
It’s clear from these results that inclusion, accessibility, and compliance are increasing priorities throughout the general market.
But even if you’re committed to inclusive user experiences and maintaining compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) or other legislation, it can sometimes be difficult to understand how to make good on that commitment, or which digital accessibility strategies are best for your organization.
In a recent webinar, our CEO and Founder Tim Springer unpacked this year’s State of Digital Accessibility survey data, adding analysis based on more than two decades as a leader in digital accessibility. In this blog, we’ll share his recommendations, complemented with data from our report, for how organizations can expand and improve digital accessibility and compliance in 2024, no matter what stage they’re at in their journey.
If you’re brand new to digital accessibility:
Shift your focus to usability
There are many reasons your organization may be pursuing digital accessibility, but our research tells us a motivating factor for most organizations is compliance. In fact, meeting the requirements of applicable anti-discrimination laws ranked as the top reason to start addressing digital accessibility among this year’s survey respondents. But, after more than two decades helping organizations of all sizes adopt accessibility, we’ve come to recognize the limitations of a compliance-only focus in helping organizations sustain accessibility progress. The reality is that most organizations’ attention will wane once they feel they’ve “checked” the compliance “box,” which is exactly when they begin to face legal action again, and the cycle repeats itself.
Luckily, our year-over-year data points to an alternative focus that helps organizations progress toward more meaningful, lasting progress: usability. When organizations shift their focus from ticking off a checklist of compliance requirements to creating a smoother, more enjoyable user experience for everyone, they improve customer engagement and retention, and avoid falling out of compliance and doing damage to their brand.
So how do you help your colleagues make this shift in mindset? As Founder and CEO Tim Springer advises, don’t underestimate the power of a story. Seek out opportunities to demonstrate the human impact of an accessible digital experience. For example, show executive teams how your app works for a person using a screen reader both before and after applying accessibility best practices. This real-world user perspective is more likely to stick with leadership and help spread an understanding of the importance of accessibility further in your organization than the “we have to stay compliant” argument.
Build it in, don’t bolt it on
The most sustainable way to address digital accessibility and remain compliant over time is to move accessibility into your experience creation life cycle instead of focusing on fixing already-live experiences. The sooner you can start to shift accessibility “left,” embedding it early and often in creative teams’ existing processes, the more efficiencies you’ll reap, and the less likely digital accessibility strategies are to be abandoned in favor of other competing priorities. And if you do make this shift, our data suggests it will pay off. Respondents in this year’s survey rated embedding accessibility in design as the most impactful action their organizations have taken toward improving accessibility, and respondents at organizations that address accessibility in planning were significantly more likely to report improved outcomes in customer acquisition, retention, and revenue as a result of digital accessibility.
Skip the DIY approach
Digital accessibility, like compliance priorities such as information security and data privacy, is complex. It requires advanced knowledge of user experience design and digital development with careful attention to, and expertise in, an intricate, evolving legal landscape. Given the complexity, the more guidance an organization can get, the better. A DIY approach to digital accessibility may lead to unnecessary headaches and frustration as you try to find your way forward.
An expert digital accessibility solution provider can help to assess your organization’s current state of compliance and shape a plan for sustainable accessibility adoption. And if others in your organization need to be convinced of the ROI, Springer’s reminder is this: investing in a partnership early on actually helps organizations save money on accessibility in the long run by driving down unexpected expenses. An expert partner will help your teams prioritize work to focus on areas where your team will make the biggest impact for users and avoid wasting time and resources.
If you’re maturing your digital accessibility practice:
Establish centralized accountability
One of the most successful digital accessibility strategies an organization can put in place is having central accountability for driving this adoption forward. While the work of accessibility should be decentralized and involve the teams responsible for creating and maintaining digital experiences, appointing a centralized champion, or team of champions, ensures that accessibility remains a priority and receives the necessary support and resources. And this can have significant benefits, especially when it comes to maintaining compliance. Respondents to our survey at organizations with centralized accountability for accessibility adoption were more than 3.5 times more likely to report reductions in legal costs and in the time required to handle lawsuits.
Standardize accessibility training
As mentioned above, digital accessibility is not just the responsibility of a select few. It impacts various roles within an organization, even those who may not directly touch the software development life cycle (SDLC). For example, does your People Operations team ensure employee benefits platforms are accessible for employees with disabilities that impact their online experiences? Could an employee with a hearing or visual disability access required training videos without issues?
By providing standardized accessibility training, organizations can raise awareness and help all staff understand the implications of digital accessibility in their work. This knowledge empowers teams to make informed decisions and contribute to a more inclusive digital experience. Fortunately, it appears more organizations are aware of the importance of training: accessibility training ranked among respondents’ top choices when asked what they would prioritize to improve accessibility at their organizations.
Building a strong digital accessibility practice is an ongoing journey. And it’s never truly “done.” Along the journey, there may be setbacks, and it can be difficult for teams to stay motivated and committed to ensuring accessibility across an entire digital portfolio, especially in the face of busy schedules and competing priorities. That’s why it’s essential to recognize and celebrate the progress your organization is making along the way. Whether it’s improving processes by embedding new digital accessibility strategies, onboarding new teams to accessibility work, or achieving specific milestones, taking the time to acknowledge and celebrate these wins helps foster a positive and inclusive culture within an organization and helps employees sustain their commitment to making a difference.
If you’re expanding accessibility across your organization or enterprise:
Make accessibility part of your procurement process
Embedding accessibility as part of the requirements for technology purchases may be second nature to companies who produce software or digital products and may need to provide proof of accessibility in their own sales cycles. But since digital transformation is now a long-past-due priority for most organizations, this best practice should really extend to any organization purchasing technology today. When you’re vetting potential tech vendors, it’s important to find out how seriously they take accessibility. Ask them questions like:
- What accessibility standards does your product conform with?
- How do you make sure your products and services are accessible?
- Can you show us proof of your commitment to accessibility?
Ideally, accessibility should be embedded in contract requirements. This way, vendors are held accountable for delivering accessible solutions, and your organization isn’t inheriting accessibility issues that may damage users’ or employees’ experiences and put you in the hot seat for non-compliance. As an added tip, Springer advises that organizations look for vendors who not only can produce a satisfactory, completed Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT®), but have also sought certification from a knowledgeable third-party expert like Level Access, as this adds credibility to their accessibility claims.
Don’t sugar-coat reporting
When trying to secure buy-in from leadership in order to spread accessibility adoption across the organization, it might be tempting to paint a rosy picture and emphasize all the positive progress made toward accessibility while downplaying roadblocks that are in the way. But Springer says it’s important to avoid that temptation and approach reporting on accessibility objectively. De-emphasizing the negative in reporting could actually backfire and lead to decreased support from leadership—after all, leaders might argue that if everything’s working so well, there’s no need to allocate more time and resources to accessibility initiatives. Remaining objective and open, while optimistic, in your progress reports helps leaders make informed decisions and prevents misalignment down the road.
No matter where you are in your accessibility journey, the State of Digital Accessibility report provides valuable insights and strategies for success. To dive deeper into these findings and draw more data to help you boost accessibility in 2024, request the Fifth Annual State of Digital Accessibility report. In the report, you’ll discover how organizations across industries are leveraging digital accessibility to enhance user experiences, drive customer engagement, and achieve compliance. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to benchmark your current efforts and stay ahead of the curve as you plan digital initiatives for 2024. Request your copy today.