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Practical Reasons for Digital Accessibility: The benefits of digital accessibility and the risks and drawbacks of inaccessible content

Digital accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. When people create content, they must ensure that this content meets the Revised Section 508 Standards of the Rehabilitation Act. This is particularly true for content creators within the federal government. Federal websites display content that is intended to be accessible by everyone in the public. Content that is not accessible excludes stakeholders and potentially those in most need of the information an organization is trying to provide. Below are non-exhaustive lists of the benefits of ensuring accessibility and the potential consequences of non-conformance.

Benefits of Accessibility 

Some benefits of accessibility include:

  • Overcome Barriers to Access: Accessible content lowers or overcomes the barriers to access for all users.
  • Increased  Customer Base and Overall Customer Experience: As 1-in-4 adults in the United States live with a disability (CDC), ensuring your content is accessible allows users to more easily use your products and services and find information in general. This will likely increase the frequency and depth to which your information is used and will improve the experience of your customers while they use your products.
  • Better Usability for Everyone (not just users with disabilities): Many improvements aimed at accommodating the needs of users with disabilities actually improve overall usability for many different types of users.

    For instance, ensuring that hyperlinks reflect the content linked to is important for those with screen readers to ensure that they are finding the appropriate information, but also provides pertinent information to all users on what information they may find if they click on that same link. A second example where alternative text or an accompanying data table is included with a chart helps all users to understand the data better; helps them use and share the exact data more easily (than trying to extract the data points from the chart), and, in general can convey data when charts are either complicated or just hard to read.

Consequences of Non-Conformance 

In addition to causing the opposite of the benefits mentioned above (i.e. increasing barrier to access, reducing usability and customer experience), non-conformance with accessibility standards can lead to negative consequences for content creators, including:

  • Legal issues:  Lawsuits related to non-conformance to Section 508 requirements have become more and more prevalent in the last decade. According to 2021 Year End Report:  ADA Digital Accessibility Lawsuits, by UsableNet:
    • Over 10 digital accessibility lawsuits per day were filed on average in 2021 (over 4000 in total)
    • The number of digital accessibility lawsuits have increased by roughly 15% each year since 2018
      Following 508 examples allows agencies to avoid lawsuits and the negative impacts they could have (fines, bad press, loss of support and/or favorability with the public, etc.)
  • Increased cost, rework and waste: Often products and content that is inaccessible must be reworked or completely redone to meet Section 508 standards. This rework wastes time and money, annoys content creators and developers, decreases productivity, extends program and project delivery timelines and lowers stakeholder perception in the organization in question.

    Additionally, in the case of purchasing, procurement of inaccessible products may necessitate additional solicitations and purchases, increasing costs and extending delivery timelines.
  • Reduced usership: Repeated instances of non-conformance can force disabled users to find other means of satisfying their needs and cause those without disabilities to simply choose not to use your services.
  • Employing the right talent: If accommodations provided by the organization are not adequate, you may not enable or empower your disabled employee base. This would likely result in an inability to retain that diverse talent. Studies have shown that employee diversity improves outcomes across an organization, particularly in the planning process.  Further, if your hiring process includes candidate interfaces, documents, forms, etc. that are not accessible, you might not hire qualified disabled candidates in the first place.
  • Lack of innovation and investment by industry: As more companies recognize the benefits of hiring a diverse workforce and serving a diverse clientbase, they need a common standards-based approach to build upon. If an agency has a track record of not properly buying or building accessible digital solutions, not only are people in the disability community underserved, companies are less likely to consistently create accessible products and services.

Use the resources on Section508.gov to review your digital assets and make sure they are accessible.

Reviewed/Updated: April 2022