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There’s a good business case for making your website more accessible to the UK’s disabled community.

If your website is at the design stage then ask your designer what they’re doing to ensure that people with sight difficulties and cognitive impairments can still use your pages. It’s undeniably easier to build accessibility in from the start.
 
Don’t despair if your website is already up and running, though, you can still retrofit.

Boost your client base
 
It’s not just best practice or ethical to ensure your pages are accessible, it has the potential to make a real difference to your customer base.
 
According to the Employers’ Forum in Disability – a global collection of employers dedicated to helping firms recruit and retain staff members with disabilities – just over 10% of people in the UK have some form of disability.
 
The disabled community also packs a powerful spending punch. According to the forum, they have an estimated £80 billion-worth of spending power in the UK and 71% of UK disabled people use the web to find information on potential purchases.
 
Of course, needs will vary quite dramatically, but the point is that a sizeable minority of the population have additional requirements when browsing your site. So, if your pages comply with best practice, you’re going to add to your potential client base.
 
Not only that, if your competitors are failing to make their websites accessible, you could be winning their clients.
 
Don’t break the law
 
Although it would be unlikely to reach court, particularly for a smaller business, you do actually have a legal duty to make your website accessible.
 
That’s for two reasons. If you’re hiring, it’s potentially discrimination to make it difficult for applicants with sight impairments to access your recruitment pages.
 
Secondly, under the Disability Discrimination Act, providers of services (that’s most commercial websites, then) have to make their make reasonable adjustments to ensure blind and partially sighted people can access that service.
 
Search engine optimisation benefits to accessibility

 
Another plus for accessible websites is the potential search engine optimisation (SEO) benefits. Search engines may struggle to assess images, audio and video content, but if you’re providing transcripts and alternative information for people with sight or hearing problems then this can really boost where you rank in the search engine results pages.
 
How can you find a decent designer?

If you’re still planning your website, then you’ll want to find a designer that can deliver accessible content, but how can you be sure they have the experience?
 
Question potential agencies about their previous work creating inclusive pages and ask for references. The company should be familiar with assistive technologies, like screen readers, and understand the relevant points from the Disability Discrimination Code of Practice.
 
Where to find good design advice

 
One organisation really championing the cause of online accessibility is the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which is working hard to educate the online community.
 
This charity has a wealth of online guidance on designing and building websites, covering everything from structure to colour.
 
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is an international body that works to develop strategies, guidelines and resources to boost the internet’s accessibility to people with disabilities. It has an excellent library of resources.
 
Even if you’re planning to leave it all in the hands of your web design agency, it’s worth understanding what makes a site accessible, so you can be confident your pages are usable to as many people as possible.
 
Three good reasons to make a website more accessible

 
So, there’s a legal requirement to make your services accessible and, let’s face it, an ethical reason to make sure your pages don’t discriminate.
 
However, it can be hard for a business to make budget available without seeing a potential return on the investment. Fortunately, I think there is a strong business case for ensuring the whole online community is equally served by your site.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 9 March, 2010 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is UK Managing Director at digital marketing agency BlueGlass. He is also known as an SEO speaker and can be found on Twitter and Google+.

102 more posts from this author

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Vincent Roman

Great piece and glad more people are banging the drum about these issues.  It's amazing how digital agency clients will simply skirt over these things, even more so when they know it will increase the cost of a project.  To me these are the bare minimum requirements.

over 6 years ago

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Steve Jarvis

I couldn't agree more, accesibility is very important in web design. Its one of our key goals with ocPortal. In addition to the puiblic facing interface we've made our Authoring tools to meet the ATAG standard for accesible authoring tools because everyone should be able to easily update content. I am not aware of many other CMS's out there that manage this as standard.

over 6 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

Kevin You are right to emphasise the business benefits. I think we are about to see a major change in the way accessibility – particularly in relation to websites – is perceived. Many people still regard making their website comply with WCAG (at whatever level) as a necessary but unwelcome chore. Too few see the commercial benefits of attracting the millions of people who find most website inaccessible and unusable. The Disability Discrimination Act may make it a legal requirement but many sites still try to get away with doing as little as possible. On 3rd May 2008, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=26554&Cr=disab&Cr1 It is the first UN convention of the 21st Century and was one of the fastest human rights treaties ever adopted. It includes a number of detailed mandates related to accessible and assistive Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Article 9 states that States shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems. Already various relevant ICT standards bodies including ITU and ISO are cooperating in promoting existing and developing new standards to improve accessibility of all digital media from websites and public information systems to broadcast television and phones. The big point is that the convention gives disabled people equal rights so inaccessible websites won’t just be unusable and annoying, they will be breaching people’s human rights. I think that will raise the profile quite a bit when the message percolates through. And in our experience, achieving accessibility means testing your website with real users. Simply ticking boxes in guidelines or running automated tools won’t deliver.

over 6 years ago

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Accessibleweb

The Disability Discrimination Act doesn't just mean "reasonable adjustments to ensure blind and partially sighted people can access that service", it applies to all disabilities, including hearing impairment and deafness, motor impairment, cognitive and learning disabilites and other things like photo-sensitive epilepsy (which is admittedly not common).

over 6 years ago

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Jennifer

over 6 years ago

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ronald

Some call them barrier free plans, universal design plans, lifestyle homes, wheelchair plans, aging in place home plans, or accessible home plans. Whatever you call it, they all fall under the same specifications set forth by the Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University. For <a href="www.barrierfreedesigns.com/">questions or comments</a>, contact us at
www.barrierfreedesigns.com/

almost 6 years ago

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