The obvious answer to making a site more accessible is attracting more customers through the simple act of widening the possible user base. It is estimated 10% of people using the web are navigating it with some kind of disability, but this answer is too simplified since most managers really have a problem with the extra cost of making a site accessible. But I want to show there doesn’t need to be an added expense and it is justified even if there are not any extra user base.
As long as I am talking about what this article is not, it is also not about avoiding lawsuits either. Similar to making a site more secure can remove unknown security risks making a site accessible, internal or external, will remove unknown legal exposures. However,that is hard to prove in hard numbers, and the title is making money not saving money.
I want to spend time on the benefits of what concentrating on universal usability will do. The first is bringing in more customers. Not ones that need the accessible features, but everyone. The reason why this happens is because screen readers used by people with low vision and web crawling robots have very similar needs to make sense of a webpage. By properly using the H tags (from <h1> down to <h5>) it helps to prioritize different titles, sub titles, and column headers so users with screen readers can easily jump from heading to heading to find what they are looking for when navigating the site. The way search engine algorithms rank your website is also based on these same tags. By making sure the site is organized using an “H tag” hierarchy structure search engines will be able to send users to you interested in exactly what the page is about. Basic SEO (search engine optimization) is achieved from making the site easier to use with screen readers.
The other way to help increase traffic to your site is through the use of closed captioning. Any videos on your site that have closed captioning can be read be most search engine bots. Now any users with hearing problems (not to mention anyone watching the video at work or in a library) will be a happier user and there will be more of them because the search engine is routing more targeted users to your site.
The next main point universal accessibility helps is designing and organizing the site. When designing a site a hard job any designer will admit to is finding or designing images which sends the correct message. By adding in the alternative text for what the picture is conveying, it helps the designer put into words the goal of every picture. Any pictures (especially stock photos being used) not conveying the desired message will stick out like a sore thumb when creating the alternative text.
Another way the design of the site is assisted is in designing the flow of the message. One of the things which needs to be done for universal accessibility is to design the site to be navigated without a mouse. The task of taking, what can be, a very spatial related design and making it linear helps to hone the message to exactly what is desired for the site.
The third benefit to designing for universal accessibility is making the application easier to use for all users. When a site is easier to use, users are more likely to buy your product, agree with your message, or recommend your application to co-workers and friends. So how does universal accessibility make a site or application easier to use? Well a small thing is designing the site with higher color contrast to help users in high stress environments. This might not seem like a big deal if it were not the fact that any time a user is multitasking is considered a high stress environment.
Another goal to make it easier for all users is to use simple, plain, language. It seems insulting suggesting to dumb down the language and that is not what I am talking about. Walking and looking at your app on their mobile phone and reading your site while working are both times it helps to have a clear message that the brain doesn’t have to think about and interpret. Sales increased for companies which redesigned their site with more simple wording.
These three points will increase the user base, make the site easier to use, and make the users happier. By designing your site with universal accessibility it can actually make it quicker to market. So many people are scared thinking a site has to be designed to be section 508 compliant in the USA or WCAG in Europe. The reality is, unless you are working with the government entity or that is your user base, there are different levels of accessibility which can be achieved. (Even WCAG has different ratings A through AAA.) So remember something is better than nothing, and if it is done at the design stage it can be tested at the same time as usability and bug testing to save time and money.