Approximately 36 million people in the U.S. have a disability, representing a combined $220 billion in discretionary spending power. Older individuals are more likely to have a disability and also tend to have larger discretionary incomes. As the population ages, it is increasingly important that organizations work to ensure that they are accessible to everyone.
What is Accessibility?
Accessibility refers to the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. Accessibility can be divided into two concepts:
1) physical/program accessibility, which refers to both the physical environment and the programs, services, and goods available to the public; and
2) web accessibility, which refers to information on the internet that is available to the public.
In general, improving accessibility for individuals with disabilities will benefit all customers by increasing the ease with which everyone can access and navigate a business's products and services.
Turning Requirements into Opportunities
Accessibility is not just about legal compliance; it's also about revenue, return on investment, and profitability. Fundamentally, accessibility is about expanding the market to ensure that people with disabilities are included.
Recommendations for incorporating accessibility within your organization:
- Ask employees with disabilities to assist you in the development and testing of products and services.
- Incorporate demographics about people with disabilities into your sales and marketing databases.
- Hire persons with disabilities to better inform your accessibility efforts and attract this customer base.
- Inform your sales and marketing staff that most persons with disabilities do not conform to stereotypes, but rather possess buying power plus a desire to grow and learn as consumers and citizens.
- Remember that persons with disabilities have varied and customized tastes similar to other consumers.
- Identify where technological and service innovations will enhance access by customers with disabilities and in doing so look for ways to adapt those innovations for the convenience of all customers.
- Determine how information technology can be specifically used to reach consumers with disabilities. The internet, for example, is a good medium to reach people who aren't mobile - it's relatively inexpensive, offers global coverage and presents information in a variety of formats.
Physical & Program Accessibility: Product and Services
Physically accessible environments are designed so that individuals of different abilities can interact with and navigate around the built elements. Examples include:
- Installing ramps, automatic or lightweight doors.
- Providing wider aisles and/or throughways to allow a wheelchair user to enter an establishment, conduct a business transaction, or access products or materials available for sale.
- Lowering products/materials and displays to provide better access for individuals using mobility devices.
- Providing menus in Braille to allow customers who are blind to select dining options independently.
Title III of the ADA requires that private businesses make their products and services available to persons with disabilities and many accessibility features and modifications cost little or nothing at all.
In some instances, access to services, programs, or goods may not be available if an establishment is physically inaccessible. In such cases businesses need to find alternate ways to ensure customers can access their goods and services. Examples include:
- Retail or food establishments may achieve program accessibility by offering home delivery, curbside pick-up or take out, or allowing customers to place orders by phone or on the company's website.
- Professional service offices may offer to conduct business in a person's home or another accessible location, or via telephone or internet.
Regardless of the type of business or service, people with disabilities are entitled to access similar to that of other individuals and will frequent such establishments.
Similar to the physical environment, the online environment can also be made more accessible to individuals with disabilities. Web accessibility takes into account the needs of individuals with visual, cognitive, or physical dexterity impairments who use screen readers or voice recognition software.
As more business is conducted online, organizations need to be mindful of website accessibility issues. People with disabilities, like other customers, may prefer to research goods, conduct business, and do their shopping online. Creating websites that are easy to navigate and understand, and testing their compatibility with standard screen readers can improve customer satisfaction and potentially increase profits and revenue.
Major technology firms such as Microsoft, Apple, and IBM already incorporate aspects of accessibility into the design of their products to maximize their customer market.
Accessibility Tax Incentives
For businesses concerned about the cost of accessibility, there are federal tax credits and incentives available through the IRS. See EARN's guide on Tax Incentives for more information.
Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization<http://www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/>
W3C's "Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization resource suite", is designed to help organizations develop a business case for web accessibility customized to their organization. The resource suite presents many different aspects of web accessibility and includes guidance on incorporating these aspects into an organization's business case.
Why Accessibility Makes Sense<http://accessites.org/why/index.php>
This presentation-style resource explains the value of web accessibility and why it makes sense for web developers in an organization to practice accessible design and why it is critical for the organization's clients.
The General Services Adminstration’s IT Accessibility and Workforce (ITAW) provides assistive technology solutions to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities. ITAW’s Assistive Technology (AT) Showcase displays state-of-the-art assistive technologies and ergonomic solutions. ITAW is the government's principal advocate and coordinator for Section 508 implementation that requires agencies to make information technology accessible for people with disabilities.
Exploratory Case Study Research on Web Accessibility<http://www.springerlink.com/content/r3t6p2p43u21np14/>
This academic journal article presents an analysis of the implications of web accessibility in four sectors and provides a managerial approach for identifying and measuring the impact of web accessibility.
Accessibility Business Case<https://www.ssbbartgroup.com/reference/index.php/Accessibility_Business_Case>
This article by the SSB Bart group offers information for businesses interested in website accessibility. It discusses website accessibility as an aspect of risk management.
Massive Business Case for Accessibility <http://www.it-analysis.com/business/compliance/content.php?cid=9258>
This article presents the business case for web accessibility, using one company's experience as an example.
Why Accessibility? Motivating Learners To Bring About Change <http://www.webaim.org/articles/training/motivate/>
This WebAIM article discusses the common motivations for organizations to pursue web accessibility. These include legal, ethical and business motivations.
How To Sell Accessibility<http://www.sitepoint.com/sell-web-accessibility/>
This article discusses the benefits to businesses of having an accessible website. It emphasizes the ways in which an accessible web site can both save and make organizations money.