It’s no secret: organizations today urgently need to demonstrate ESG (environmental, social, and governance) performance. Customers, employees, and investors want to align themselves with organizations that share common beliefs and can make those beliefs a reality with committed governance.
Brands that lead the rest know that accessibility is a crucial differentiator when it comes to ESG. And an integrated digital accessibility program is one of the most substantive, consistent ways an organization can deliver an accessible, enjoyable experience to all customers, including people with disabilities. In this post, we’ll examine the connection between ESG and accessibility and explore what a commitment to digital accessibility says about your organization.
What’s the connection between ESG and accessibility?
ESG is a way of summarizing and measuring the many initiatives an organization is taking to ensure it delivers on its values and responsibilities to society and the environment. It’s become a core consideration for investors looking to screen the viability of a potential investment, but it’s also an increasingly important internal metric used by company leadership to track and communicate the performance of socially conscious initiatives and policies.
“Simply put, there is no separating ESG and accessibility. Ensuring accessibility helps companies to promote social inclusivity and diversity, which is essential for building a positive reputation and maintaining customer loyalty.” — Jonathan Avila, Chief Accessibility Officer, Level Access
Accessibility fits primarily into the “S” or “social” part of ESG, which mainly refers to an organization’s efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), both externally, among consumers, and internally, among its staff. Accessibility fits into that category because it’s about people—it’s the practice of ensuring both physical and digital environments, products, services, and information can be used by people of all abilities, including people with disabilities, whether temporary or permanent. In fact, accessibility is so deeply connected to DEI that many, including President Biden, now use the acronym DEI and A, to signify that initiatives can’t be successful in any one of these areas without addressing the needs and including the voices of people with disabilities.
What an established digital accessibility program says about your organization
It’s one thing to say you’re committed to serving customers and empowering employees with disabilities. It’s another thing to demonstrate that commitment. Your organization’s commitment to ESG and accessibility might be demonstrated by policy actions, such as:
- Ensuring representation of people with disabilities on boards and other stakeholder committees
- Supporting employee resource and affinity groups made up of people with disabilities that help guide business efforts
- Enacting company practices supporting the accommodations and accessibility needs of all staff
Additionally, in today’s increasingly digitally connected world, leading organizations know that investing in a robust digital accessibility program is a particularly positive signal to those looking to measure ESG. In this section, we’ll outline what an investment in digital accessibility says about your organization.
You’re meeting your equal access obligations
Various global regulations mandate digital accessibility. Recently, we’ve seen an increase in enforcement and rulemaking around digital accessibility in both Canada and the U.S. Governments are setting out strict reporting requirements and deadlines for government agencies and federally funded organizations. Meanwhile, private litigation against organizations of all sizes for inaccessible digital experiences has risen sharply since 2017, and is predicted to rise again in 2023.
As part of an ongoing commitment to digital accessibility, organizations have to set and track compliance with internal accessibility benchmarks to ensure they are meeting legal obligations under laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Accessible Canada Act. This tracking demonstrates a meaningful commitment to mitigating risk and maintaining accountability, a cornerstone of the “governance” component of “ESG”.
Your business is open to all
In the U.S., one in four adults self-identify as having a disability that may impact their interactions with technology. By committing to digital accessibility, you’re ensuring equitable access for all users, which is not only the right thing to do but also important for maximizing your potential client/customer base. This is especially pertinent if you’re a software or product company looking to supply government agencies, which often require proof of digital accessibility compliance before signing vendor contracts.
For B2C organizations, it’s crucial to remember that people with disabilities, along with their friends and family, control more than an estimated $13T in annual disposable income. It’s a consumer group that cuts across every societal demographic. Businesses that demonstrate their commitment to ESG and accessibility with accessible, easy-to-use websites, in-store kiosks, or e-commerce experiences are likely to be rewarded with loyalty and repeat business from within this significant segment of consumers.
And finally, organizations taking action on ESG and accessibility are more likely to stay top-of-mind for all consumers due to the fact that accessible web experiences perform better on SEO, helping search engines like Google crawl and understand your content more easily. It’s this type of attention to detail that demonstrates your organization is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to attracting business.
You’re committed to a diverse, sustainable workforce
Organizations that outperform the rest on ESG understand that accessibility is not just an imperative for consumer-facing websites and apps—their employee-facing digital experiences, from HR software to meeting and collaboration applications and file storage solutions, must be accessible and navigable to all employees.
In the U.S., at the federal level, under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and at the state level in places like Colorado and California, government agencies are obliged to provide accessible tools and systems to their staff. But beyond government mandates, and for private employers, a commitment to accessible internal systems means you’re attracting and supporting employees from the widest possible talent pool, and you’re serious about retention and reducing churn—a metric of great interest to investors. There’s even been research to suggest that organizations investing in disability inclusion within their talent pool are, on average, twice as likely to have higher total shareholder returns than those of their peer group.
You’re invested in customer (user) experience
Finally, accessible digital experiences are not only more inclusive for consumers and employees with disabilities but are generally more user-friendly for everyone. By following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the global standard for web accessibility, organizations ensure their websites, apps, and platforms are clear and logical, easy to navigate, and free of distraction for everyone, of every ability. And when users can complete their desired actions with minimal friction on your digital experience, they’ll keep coming back. Accessibly designed, user-friendly experiences significantly impact consumer engagement and retention, which drives revenue and other profit metrics that organizations’ leadership and investors alike must watch closely.
“No brand wants people to leave their web experience in frustration. At the end of the day, accessible user experiences are pleasant user experiences. But to ensure ALL your users can efficiently and effortlessly achieve their goals, you must understand their needs and capabilities, and design for them.” — Karen Hawkins, Head of Accessible User Experience Design, Level Access
In short, an organization’s digital accessibility program can speak volumes when it comes to demonstrating its commitment to accessibility more broadly, which is a key marker of performance on ESG. In today’s competitive brand landscape, it’s an opportunity for differentiation that can’t be missed. Increasingly, investors want to see proof that brands can support their ESG commitments and do so in a sustainable way. With a robust, integrated digital accessibility program, organizations can document and communicate their commitments to ESG and accessibility and tell a positive, compelling, and authentic brand story.
Need help telling your story?
Level Access supports clients in documenting and communicating their commitments to digital accessibility in multiple ways. With advanced expertise in program management, we can help ensure your teams are informed, aligned, and accountable when it comes to your organization’s accessibility best practices and standards. Clients are also provided with the Level Access icon and an information page to add to their web experiences, helping clearly articulate their commitment to digital accessibility to the public. Explore stories from leading brands who’ve demonstrated their commitments to DEI and ESG with help from Level Access.
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