Pedro Martin Valera

How we might influence product decision-makers about accessibility in digital products

Before we start, what do you think is accessibility? Take a pause and reflect on that for one minute. Once you are done, keep reading this.

Suppose you think Accessibility on the Web is meant to help people with limited abilities. In that case, you are not alone, and this is a frequent understanding that I usually stumble upon. If you didn’t, that is great.

This perspective is narrow.

Accessibility is making your websites usable by as many people as possible.

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So why is it so difficult for decision-makers to consider?

Despite the increasing awareness of the importance of accessibility in digital products, many product owners and decision-makers still do not prioritise accessibility in their product development process.

I think some of the reasons are:

  • Lack of awareness: some people need to be made aware of the needs of users and the impact that inaccessible products can have on them. With this knowledge, it can be easier to incorporate into the product development process.

  • Misconceptions: accessibility is often overlooked because of the misconceptions about accessibility requirements. Some product owners and product decision-makers may believe that accessibility is only necessary for a small group of users or that it requires significant investment and resources. However, accessibility benefits a much more comprehensive range of users.

  • Lack of expertise: designing and developing accessible products require specialised knowledge and expertise. This lack of expertise can make it challenging to understand the technical requirements and design considerations that need to be considered.

  • Time and cost constraints: product development is often subject to tight deadlines and limited budgets, which can lead to prioritising features and functionality over accessibility. Accessibility may be perceived as an additional burden on development resources or an expense that can be cut to save time and money.

  • Limited legal requirements: although some laws and regulations require digital products to be accessible, these laws are often not enforced or poorly enforced. Hence, some product owners and product decision-makers may not feel the need to prioritise accessibility.

So, before we talk about how we might convince product decision-makers, let’s talk about the consequences of having good accessibility in a digital product.

  • Expanded User Base: by creating products that are accessible to everyone, companies can expand their user base beyond. Moreover, products designed with accessibility in mind are also more likely to meet the needs of users with situational or temporary disabilities, such as those using mobile devices in bright sunlight or those recovering from an injury.

  • Improved User Experience: creating products that are accessible also leads to an enhanced user experience. Features such as keyboard navigation, high-contrast mode, and closed captions can benefit many users. For example, keyboard navigation not only makes the product accessible to users who cannot use a mouse, but it can also be a faster and more efficient way to navigate the product for users who prefer using keyboard shortcuts. Another example is closed captions because they not only benefit users with hearing impairments but can also be helpful for users who want to watch a video without disturbing others in a quiet environment.

  • Positive Brand Image: companies prioritising accessibility can benefit from a positive brand image. By demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity and diversity, companies can create a positive perception among users, employees, and investors.

  • Legal Compliance: creating products that are accessible can also help companies meet legal requirements. In many countries, including the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, some laws and regulations require digital products to be accessible to users with disabilities. Companies that fail to comply with these laws may face legal action, fines, or damage to their reputation.

Now that we mentioned some goodies for an accessible digital product, you might think, well, let’s build it following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Although it is a good starting point, WCAG guidelines cover a wide range of accessibility issues and do not cover every possible disability or situation.

WCAG Guidelines must address usability issues such as confusing navigation, unclear instructions, or overly complex interfaces.

Meeting WCAG compliance requirements does not necessarily mean a product is high quality.

How might we convince product decision-makers

We explored some benefits and why WCAG is a good starting but not the definitive playbook.

So all this can make the burden off of product decision-makers heavier, so here are some points on how we can be softened

Is the right to do: It is a human right!

Accessibility is a fundamental human right that is enshrined in many laws and international treaties, including the United Nations Human Rights principles:

Equality and Non-discrimination: All individuals are equal as human beings and under the inherent dignity of each person. No one, therefore, should suffer discrimination based on race, colour, ethnicity, gender, age, language, sexual orientation, religion, political or other opinion, national, social or geographical origin, disability, property, birth or other status as established by human rights standards.

And the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Under the CRPD, governments, businesses, and organisations are legally obligated to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to information and communication technologies, including the Internet. This includes the development of accessible websites, web applications, and other digital content.

It is Law

  • EN 301 549 in the EU: Directive (EU) 2016/2102 establishes precise requirements for web accessibility in the European Union. Public sector bodies in the EU have a legal obligation to ensure that their websites and mobile applications are accessible to all people. Failure to comply with the accessibility requirements can have severe consequences for public sector bodies, including legal sanctions and reputational damage.
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the USA: Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that their electronic and information technology, including their websites, is accessible to everyone. Federal agencies must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA or higher and provide accessible alternatives to content that is not accessible.
  • Accessibility Regulation 2018 in the UK: The Accessibility Regulations 2018 require public sector bodies in the UK to ensure that their websites and mobile apps are accessible to all people with disabilities. Public sector bodies must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA and publish an accessibility statement on their websites.

It brings money to the business

In addition, accessible websites and mobile apps can also be more user-friendly for all customers, regardless of their abilities. For example, captions and transcripts for videos can benefit not only people who are deaf or hard of hearing but also people who are non-native speakers or have a noisy environment. This can lead to a more positive user experience and increased customer loyalty.

Accessible websites are typically easier to navigate, understand, and interact with, which can increase user engagement and reduce bounce rates. However, this can increase traffic, extended visits, and higher page views.

Search engines like Google and Bing consider these engagement metrics when ranking websites. A website with a high bounce rate or low user engagement is less likely to appear at the top of search results. By improving the user experience through accessibility, businesses can increase their website's engagement metrics and search rankings.

Search engines also prioritise websites that load quickly and have well-organized content. Accessible websites often prioritise performance and efficiency, leading to faster load times and a more streamlined range.

I hope these points can bring accessibility in the web to the core and centre of the web development process and set solid arguments to help to influence product decision-makers and bring the whole team and strategies focused on this.