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Accessible Websites Make Good Business Sense

Editor's Note: Geof Collis is a Web Accessibility Consultant, Badeyes Design and Consulting: {http://www.badeyes.com}

You've taken the time to put together your business website. All of the players--the designer, programmer and marketing--have done their part, and the site is now launched. You did everything right.

Or did you? Did you take into account accessibility? Usability?

If you didn't, then you've just lost potential revenue from the disability community for your product or service, not to mention the possibility of a lawsuit, as in the United States case of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) versus Target, according to the Citizens with Disabilities-Ontario website ({http://www.cwd-o.org/cwdo/activities/accessibility_committee.php?activities-accessibility=52}3).

As reported on the same site, those with vision loss in the United Kingdom have a disposable income of roughly 50 million pounds, while Canada's disability community has 25 billion dollars. In the United States, the figure is $175 billion for disposable income and approximately $700 billion in annual earnings, with experts expecting this buying power to exceed $1 trillion early in the new century.

Clearly, businesses need to operate in ways that will attract disabled customers, including those who are blind or partially sighted. Keeping in mind the potential revenue from this community, numerous business websites are so user-unfriendly that we can't, or won't, make it past the home page, because link names make no sense, there is no alternative text for images, or Flash is used indiscriminately, just to name a few barriers that inaccessible websites pose right at the outset. Potential loss of sales!

And then there are the sites we'll venture into, often with mounting frustration, looking for a product or service, only to be shut out at the shopping cart checkout. Again, potential loss of Sales!

About a year ago, I visited one of the music download websites. It wasn't very accessible--more like the best of the worst--but it had a pretty good selection of the tunes I was looking for, so I muddled on. I managed to get a number of the songs I wanted and I proceeded to the checkout counter. I had to get my wife to fill out the credit card information, however, because my screen reader was not able to read it, due to the inaccessible scripting.

My wife has a busy life, and I don't believe it is incumbent on her to help this company make sales, so I stopped going. Absolutely no more Sales here! I contacted the Company and explained my problem and was promised they'd look into it. When I went back recently, I noticed that the site itself wasn't any more accessible than before, but lo and behold, they had made the checkout accessible by creating a screen reader-friendly form. I was able to purchase tracks independently, and have been doing so ever since. They lost years' worth of sales because they denied me access to their payment options.

An inaccessible website can also present a barrier to those looking for employment or wanting to purchase tickets. One problem is having to fill out forms that are not accessible or require some sort of verification that you are indeed human. For screen-reader users, visual verification boxes, or CAPTCHA, become a real barrier (see {http://www.cwd-o.org/cwdo/activities/accessibility_committee.php?activities-accessibility=223} for more information about CAPTCHA).

Another aspect of web design that goes hand in hand with accessibility is usability. Your site can be accessible, but if it is not useable, then we're back to square one. A site that has poor colour contrast or inconsistent navigation, is not marked up properly using lists/headings or doesn't have support for low literacy levels, can present a barrier for persons with disabilities, as well as for the general public.

I visited a site the other day hoping to purchase information, but the site was so unusable that I left in frustration. I consider myself a power screen-reader user--if I have trouble with sites like the ones I've described, then I'm quite confident that your company is losing a lot of sales because you didn't make your site readily accessible. People shouldn't be expected to notify you when they can't access your site--assuming, of course, that they can even find your contact details online.

Now you are aware of some of the barriers the blind, partially sighted and otherwise disabled community faces when a website is not accessible, and you realize the lost sales that may result. It's time to retrofit your site, though it is more expensive to do it this way than to build from scratch. There's no shortage of accessibility experts who know very little about what it takes to make your site user-friendly, but who have no problem continuing to take your money until they get it right.

Now, don't you wish you did it properly the first time?

Further Reading:

  • Accessibility Myths and Misconceptions: {http://www.456bereastreet.com/archive/200505/accessibility_myths_and_misconceptions/}
  • Business benefits of an accessible website: {http://www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/benefits.html#content}
  • Designing More Usable Websites: {http://trace.wisc.edu/world/web/index.html}
  • Inaccessibility of CAPTCHA: {http://www.w3.org/TR/2005/NOTE-turingtest-20051123/}
  • Quality tips for webmasters: {http://www.w3.org/QA/Tips/}
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