Why is accessibility important?

By Andy Ingle

Your website or app should be easy to use for everyone. That includes the 22% of your customers who are living with disabilities. Here we answer the questions why is accessibility important? and how do I build a case for accessibility?

What is accessibility?

Accessibility is ultimately about usability. It’s about making sure that your digital product or service is easy for everyone to use. 

That includes people with permanent, temporary, or situational impairments. 

Digital accessibility is one part of the wider subject of digital inclusion. Digital inclusion looks beyond usability. It considers other ways people can be excluded by digital products. And how to design for the full range of human diversity to achieve better digital products. And better outcomes.

Accessibility is a great place to start your digital inclusion journey. 

And compliance with accessibility guidelines is a useful place to start with accessibility.

Why is accessibility important?

22% of UK consumers have disabilities. But the percentage of people with digital accessibility needs is even higher.

That’s because disability is a spectrum. Some people with physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments don’t identify as disabled. But they still face significant barriers when trying to use your website or app.  

We all experience disability at some stage in our lives. Whether it’s permanent, temporary, or situational.

And accessibility needs are on the rise. Our aging population means that more people are becoming disabled in later life.  

Whatever our circumstances, we should all have equal access to use sites and apps that enhance our lives and work.

This video explores why accessibility is a business imperative

The accessibility business case

Making your website or app accessible has clear financial, legal, moral, and usability benefits.

For a great overview, check out this video on how to build a business case for accessibility. Or read on for the key takeaways.

1. The moral case for accessibility

 Digital products and services have the potential to hugely benefit people with digital access needs.

They allow us to communicate, learn, and participate in society in ways that might otherwise be difficult or unavailable. 

Fail to include the needs of your diverse customers, and you exclude them from full social and economic participation. 

Poor accessibility makes life harder for people who may already feel marginalised. And it makes these customers feel like they’re the problem. Rather than your digital product.

Findings from research by Scope confirm this. Here’s what disabled people said they feel like when they can’t complete a task online:

  • ‘The internet doesn’t belong to me’
  • ‘It makes me feel like the internet doesn’t belong to me, and that it’s not a welcoming place’
  • ‘It makes me feel frustrated and angry with my body. It lowers my confidence, making me feel less independent’
  • ‘It makes me feel very frustrated because online is my gateway to a “normal” life’‘Isolated. Excluded. Alone. Frustrated. Unimportant to society


2. The financial case for accessibility

Brands who fail to cater to UK customers with digital access needs are missing a key economic opportunity. 

The purchasing power of the disabled community is worth a huge £274 billion (according to charity Scope’s analysis of the ONS). 

Businesses that fail to meet the needs of disabled consumers are turning away a share of £420 million each week. So accessible digital products let you tap into larger market share and grow revenue.

Investing in accessibility also helps avoid the costs and damages associated with legal proceedings. These costs can continue long after an initial lawsuit. 

I'd like to spend more than I do. But I can't, because it's such a laborious task. If sites and apps were more accessible, I'd spend more. Because I'd have no restrictions.

Participant from Scope’s Big Hack Survey

Brands also spend more time and money when accessibility is retrofitted, as Inclusive Design and the Bottom Line explains:

‘Cost-cutting on inclusivity can result in higher costs later on as products are deemed unusable, leading in turn to product returns and costly help desk calls. Retrofitting a product to be inclusive also incurs extra costs’. 

Our focus is on becoming much more cost effective by building accessibility into all our processes. That way, it’s there right from the start. Just business as usual.

Geoff Mossman, head of customer vulnerability, Lloyds Banking Group

3. The legal case for accessibility

The ethical right of disabled people to inclusive design is also a legal right.

Digital accessibility is a regulatory requirement. And non-compliance comes at a significant legal risk, with associated financial costs.

Any multinational brand with online services in the US market is at significant legal risk if their digital services exclude users. Here at Inviqa we’re already working with UK brands facing costly legal action in the US.

UK-only brands cannot assume immunity. Legislation around this area is changing all the time, and international developments set precedent for UK law. What’s more, legal action in the UK doesn’t tend to make the headlines since it’s usually settled outside court to minimise damage to brand reputation.

The Equality Act 2010

This legislation made it illegal to exclude or discriminate against people on the grounds of disability. Organisations must avoid ‘indirect discrimination’ and provide an equal service to customers with access needs.

Breaching the Equality Act is a civil (rather than criminal) offence, but there are examples of where organisations have launched private legal action – for example, RNIB launching legal action over the accessibility of the bmibaby website.

The Sale of Goods Act 1979Can a customer using a screen reader add things to the basket on your site? If people are unable to complete a purchase using your app or website on the grounds of disability, you could be breaking the law.
Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018As of summer 2019, public sector websites have had to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA standards. Under the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive, public sector websites created before September 2018 must comply by September 2020, and mobile apps by June 2021.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)For now, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) and British Standard 8878 are the best places to determine whether your site is compliant.
International regulationsBrands that deliver digital products and services to markets outside the UK need to comply with regulatory frameworks specific to those markets. As an example, all websites based in Norway must meet WCAG 2.0 standards. In the US, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits were filed at a rate of one-per-hour in 2019 (2019, UsableNet). ADA was also the basis for the high-profile lawsuit against international brand, Domino’s Pizza.

4. The usability case for accessibility

An important and often overlooked benefit of inclusive design is the universal usability advantage it delivers. 

Accessibility needs form a broad spectrum. And can be permanent, temporary, or situational. 

That’s why designing for diverse people and rarer use cases improves usability for a far bigger audience.

Countless (online and offline) examples show that when you design for disability, you improve usability for everyone.

At a time where customer experience is the top brand differentiator, accessibility can help brands to stand out from the crowd. And nurture trust and brand advocacy.

Accessibility also impacts usability and brand perception.

  • Brands that are perceived to ‘improve people’s lives and the role they play in society’ generate significantly higher KPIs when it comes to purchase intent, repurchase intent, and brand advocacy (Meaningful Brands® study).
  • 63% of consumers prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for a purpose or align with their own values (‘The Rise of the purpose-led brand’ report, Accenture).

From advocacy to action

Many digital teams already understand why accessibility is important.

They know that digital accessibility means better products. And better outcomes for customers and businesses alike.

It’s why 8 in 10 companies are now working to achieve digital accessibility.

But a staggering 64% of these companies still lack senior buy-in. 

Many leaders still need help with the question, ‘why is accessibility important?’ 

We hope this article helps you to communicate the tangible business benefits of accessibility. And build a compelling case for accessibility.

If you’re just starting out with accessibility, check out:

In this video, SSE Energy explains why the company is investing in accessibility

Also check out the following infographic by Scope, which captures some of the key stats about accessibility. Head to the Scope website for a text version of this infographic.

Accessibility infographic by charity Scope