The business case for accessibility and inclusive design

Young woman in wheelchair looking up for book in library and need inclusive design

Written by Mark Walker, Head of Marketing and Communications at AbilityNet

AbilityNet has been a global leader in how to design and deliver accessible digital services and products for 20 years. Our consultants work with a range of multinational blue chip clients, including financial services, government, retailers and technology vendors. Many of those businesses are now committed to accessibility and some even include it in their core business mission.

If businesses such as Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and Heathrow have seen the value of putting accessibility at the heart of their design processes, what’s in it for you? Why would those businesses consider the needs of disabled people? Why would they invest time and effort needed to adapt their design processes and adopt accessibility? Why haven’t you?

We see three core areas to consider – two carrots and one rather large stick:

  • Financial Benefits
  • Brand Benefits
  • Legal Benefits

Financial benefits: The marketplace

It’s estimated that disabled people and their families in the UK spend at least £249 billion every year, which is known as the UK Purple Pound. The global estimate is $6 trillion, which is equivalent to a market the size of China.

AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson MBE has been a leading figure in accessibility for 20 years.  As he says, many people don’t realise just how many people need to be considered when thinking about disability.

“The UK Government estimates for disability include as many as 6 million people with a wide range of disabilities, conditions and impairments. They could be living with dyslexia, Parkinson’s, MND or autism. They may have arthritis, back pain or depression. Most of those people don’t identify themselves as disabled, but with an ageing population their daily concerns will become increasingly common.”

We’ve also seen the  growth of mobile bring the needs of disabled people into sharper focus as so many more people now experience similar issues every day. Someone who is permanently disabled may experience barriers everyday, but someone using their mobile may find themselves temporarily impaired.

For example someone with Parkinson’s may find it difficult to use a mouse on a desktop computer, but someone drinking a coffee and using their phone one handed will be equally challenged. Someone who is blind may be sing voice controls to access their emails, but someone in a car may be using voice controls to set their satnav. Or sunshine on your screen makes it impossible to view, which is the same as being blind.

Starting with the extreme use cases presented by disabled people may seem odd, but it means you’re always building digital solutions that are much more usable for everyone.

Financial Benefits: Better by Design

Every business does better when it has great products and services. Making sure what you deliver to customers is easy to use by disabled people will make sure it is easier for every customer. You can think of this as a Usability Bonus – we know that many of our clients find that inclusive design makes sites and apps easier/quicker for everyone to use.

There are also savings to be made. One of the biggest problems we see is businesses wasting time and money by putting accessibility at the end of their processes. If you wait to test for accessibility just before going live you’re saving up problems and will almost certainly have to retrofit solutions and rebuild.

Joe Chidzik has been a Senior Consultant at AbilityNet for over ten years and has seen a change in the way that many clients now approach their projects.

“We work with several clients who ask for accessibility reviews at wireframe stage,” he explains. “Their design teams sit down with our consultants and look at likely hotspots and issues and make sure the solutions they need are built in from the start.

“This adds almost nothing to the overall cost but can save a lot of money at the end of project. It also helps change awareness and decision-making of your teams, which is a significant step towards the transformation you’re looking for.”

Brand benefits

Everyone wants things to be simple, functional and easy to use, whether that is an app, a website or in-store experiences. Once you have inclusive design at the heart of your digital projects you will deliver better products and services – which is a vital part of how your customers experience your brand.

Geoff Mossman is Head of Customer Vulnerability in Group Transformation at Lloyds Banking Group. He is clear that their investment in accessibility means they’re able to offer a better online experience. “Now 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.”

Legal Benefits

If financial and brand benefits are the carrots, the legal issues represent the stick. Investing in accessibility will help mitigate legal risks and ensures that you will avoid litigation – avoiding costs and the brand damage associated with legal proceedings.

Many of our clients have come to use with concerns about compliance, especially multinationals with services in the United States, where legal action by interest groups is much more high profile and costly. But don’t assume that you’re safe if you’re UK-only as they still happen here, it’s just that the reputation risk is so high that those cases are usually settled before they reach court.

The Equality Act 2010 made it illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of nine Protected Characteristics – such as disability, gender, race, age and so on. For example if your website or app isn’t accessible it could be preventing people from applying for jobs – which would make you vulnerable to claims of discrimination in recruitment.

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 will also be relevant if people can shop using your app or website. Can people using a screen reader put things in the basket on your site? If not you could be breaking the law.

Business case, not business strategy

There are some very obvious reasons why any organisation needs to consider accessibility:

  • Huge market opportunities
  • Better products and services
  • Brand loyalty
  • Save money
  • Legal risks
  • Beat your competitors.

It’s important to add that whatever case is made to invest in accessibility you will still need to look at your existing business strategy and how to exploit the opportunities and avoid the threats. Our customers mention touch-points such as investing in better training, building a more inclusive culture, raising awareness across digital disciplines, adapting design processes and promoting their successes.


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