Why digital accessibility should be top of the board agenda

By Jonathan Hassell, CEO, Hassell Inclusion
What should business leaders be doing to ensure that digital accessibility is a priority across their whole organisation?

We now rely on working, shopping, learning and being entertained in a digital environment. However, as more and more services find a permanent home online, the potential for locking out a significant proportion of potential customers and employees increases.

Why is this? Because four in 10 people have digital accessibility needs, and yet, at most, just 20% of websites and mobile apps are accessible to everyone.

This just doesn’t make good business sense, especially when the current cost of living crisis means that securing every customer is a hard-fought battle. Businesses should be doing everything they can to ensure they are reaching and engaging with as many people as possible.

However, while other areas of diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I) are now high on the board agenda, having a dedicated senior-level focus on tackling digital accessibility is often not a priority.

Data from our recent report - An Immature Response? Why organisations are failing to build digitally accessible product and services – shows that accessibility isn’t getting the attention or investment it deserves at a senior level. Of the businesses that participated in our research, nearly half (47%) didn’t have a board member responsible for digital accessibility. Just one in four CEOs and financial directors are aware of and committed to their digital accessibility obligations.

The report also revealed that chief technology officers, heads of digital, heads of UX and HR departments – the very people who should be leading the charge on digital accessibility – are failing to make a serious commitment in this area.

However, our experience, and data, tells us that organisations with a proactive approach to digital accessibility, where the leadership is fully engaged, achieve better results and ROI. In-depth analysis of almost 300 responses to our ISO 30071-1 Digital Accessibility Maturity Scorecard survey identified that committed board-level support is key to embedding wholesale organisational change around digital inclusion. This support translates into proper focus, funding and efficiency, instead of inefficient retro-fixing.

The commercial incentive to get digital accessibility right can be huge, from improved reputation to increased revenue to increased loyalty of customers and employees.

So, what should business leaders be doing to ensure that digital accessibility is a priority across their whole organisation?

  1. Define senior-level responsibility: Appoint a digital accessibility programme manager at a senior level to lead a project team that can own, run and report progress against your strategic accessibility maturity plan. Ensure your plan includes adequate training, as well as the creation and communication of policies and processes, to embed digital accessibility as part of your organisation’s DNA.
     
  2. Embed accessibility across your organisation & with all stakeholders: Great accessibility is only possible if the whole organisation is aware of it and actively ensures it is part of the design and creation of any digital product or communication. Key to this will be taking your wider supply chain – your external digital suppliers – on  this journey with you by ensuring digital accessibility is part of requirements and contracts in your procurement process.
     
  3. Adopt a strategic approach: Being great at digital accessibility is about the whole user journey. This requires a strategic approach to ensure that accessibility is ‘baked in’ to your processes and not seen as a tactical add-on. Otherwise, you’ll always find yourselves having to retro-fix elements of your services that don’t meet accessibility requirements from the start.
     
  4. Recognise the value: The report revealed that most (62%) organisations aren’t understanding the benefits or measuring the ROI of digital accessibility and the value it can bring them. From increased customers to a more loyal workforce, the benefits are significant. Measurement and tracking progress is key – it will drive success.
     
  5. Design for accessibility throughout your development process: Our research shows that there is often an ad-hoc approach to digital accessibility in the development of digital user journeys. Organisations need to ensure it is embedded throughout the development process of all products that users touch, from social media, to websites and apps, to the PDFs that are often downloaded from them. Ensure they are regularly monitored, checked and fixed after launch.

Towards a more digitally inclusive future

The good news is that digital accessibility is on the rise. In January 2023, 11,000 people had ‘accessibility’ in their job title on LinkedIn, compared to 9,700 the previous year.

However, there is clearly still work to be done. Our analysis found that 35% of organisations would launch digital products with known accessibility issues, and one in five said accessibility wasn’t a consideration when designing digital products.

A proactive approach to digital accessibility benefits everyone, and getting it right unlocks a whole world of potential customers, employees, investors, stakeholders and advocates that may have previously been overlooked.

For many organisations, this will require a shift in how products are designed, developed, tested and fixed, how suppliers and partners are contracted, and how all teams approach digital accessibility training.

With DE&I employment commitments and consumer promises becoming integral to brands, and more people being employed to deliver digital accessibility, there is an increasing pressure for digital accessibility to be represented at senior level. This is great news, as top-level budget, accountability and ROI monitoring will further ensure accessibility is well-funded, well-planned and delivered efficiently.

So, when it comes to the digital accessibility opportunity, can your organisation afford to get left behind?

 

The report - An Immature Response? Why organisations are failing to build digitally accessible product and services – can be downloaded here.

Digital accessibility should be a priority for boards

So, what should business leaders be doing to ensure that digital accessibility is a priority across their whole organisation?

  1. Define senior-level responsibility: Appoint a digital accessibility programme manager at a senior level to lead a project team that can own, run and report progress against your strategic accessibility maturity plan. Ensure your plan includes adequate training, as well as the creation and communication of policies and processes, to embed digital accessibility as part of your organisation’s DNA.
     
  2. Embed accessibility across your organisation & with all stakeholders: Great accessibility is only possible if the whole organisation is aware of it and actively ensures it is part of the design and creation of any digital product or communication. Key to this will be taking your wider supply chain – your external digital suppliers – on  this journey with you by ensuring digital accessibility is part of requirements and contracts in your procurement process.
     
  3. Adopt a strategic approach: Being great at digital accessibility is about the whole user journey. This requires a strategic approach to ensure that accessibility is ‘baked in’ to your processes and not seen as a tactical add-on. Otherwise, you’ll always find yourselves having to retro-fix elements of your services that don’t meet accessibility requirements from the start.
     
  4. Recognise the value: The report revealed that most (62%) organisations aren’t understanding the benefits or measuring the ROI of digital accessibility and the value it can bring them. From increased customers to a more loyal workforce, the benefits are significant. Measurement and tracking progress is key – it will drive success.
     
  5. Design for accessibility throughout your development process: Our research shows that there is often an ad-hoc approach to digital accessibility in the development of digital user journeys. Organisations need to ensure it is embedded throughout the development process of all products that users touch, from social media, to websites and apps, to the PDFs that are often downloaded from them. Ensure they are regularly monitored, checked and fixed after launch.

Towards a more digitally inclusive future

The good news is that digital accessibility is on the rise. In January 2023, 11,000 people had ‘accessibility’ in their job title on LinkedIn, compared to 9,700 the previous year.

However, there is clearly still work to be done. Our analysis found that 35% of organisations would launch digital products with known accessibility issues, and one in five said accessibility wasn’t a consideration when designing digital products.

A proactive approach to digital accessibility benefits everyone, and getting it right unlocks a whole world of potential customers, employees, investors, stakeholders and advocates that may have previously been overlooked.

For many organisations, this will require a shift in how products are designed, developed, tested and fixed, how suppliers and partners are contracted, and how all teams approach digital accessibility training.

With DE&I employment commitments and consumer promises becoming integral to brands, and more people being employed to deliver digital accessibility, there is an increasing pressure for digital accessibility to be represented at senior level. This is great news, as top-level budget, accountability and ROI monitoring will further ensure accessibility is well-funded, well-planned and delivered efficiently.

So, when it comes to the digital accessibility opportunity, can your organisation afford to get left behind?

 

The report - An Immature Response? Why organisations are failing to build digitally accessible product and services – can be downloaded here.

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