Forget About Compliance, Accessibility Is An Optimization Strategy

by Dylan Thomas

As marketers, we are always concerned with - maybe even obsessed with - incremental optimization of our key metrics. More pageviews, more conversions, higher CTR, more dwell time. The opportunity for huge leaps of market share or mindshare is largely out of reach, so as a group we spend ghastly amounts of time and effort chasing fractions of percentages of improvement. That is, of course, if you haven’t neglected the double-digit blind spot waiting for you at the top of the funnel known as “web accessibility.”"

The problem is that most marketers don’t see accessibility as a strategy, but it is literally about people accessing what you are offering. If it registers at all, it is almost certainly in the context of compliance and risk reduction, not audience expansion. But the problem with that - besides the increasing potential for litigation, fines, and more - is you also end up simply ignoring as much as 26% of your potential audience.

Accessibility should be approached as an offense, not discovered as a necessary defense. Even more appropriately, accessibility ought to be considered as a basis for real optimization. All that effort spent on all those micro-optimizations has its effect magnified when you expand your audience by making the experience available to everyone.

Often, in presentations about accessibility, I recall an example of a missed, highly-niche, high-priced e-commerce sale that was lost simply because the potential customer could not make the shopping cart work and others where applicants could not apply because the applications were inaccessible. These situations would have had much better outcomes for all involved had the designers been looking at the whole experience from a more expansive and inclusive viewpoint during the planning stages. Unfortunately, most marketers face a lawsuit far sooner than they realize the sales and applicants they’ve lost along the way.

It pays to think of the tools we use all the time from the viewpoint of those who cannot right now. Imagine a simple arm injury or the challenge of being a new parent. How would you navigate a website with a broken trackpad using just your keyboard?

Compliance with legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the European Accessibility Act, and others are important, but that is not the reason to embark on improving your web accessibility. The reason is that no matter if you’re fighting for sales or winning hearts and minds, it serves your cause by increasing its reach. And that is an investment that pays dividends. This is a rare time when the incentives of all parties align. It is the right thing for everyone, which means it’s the right thing for you.

It is time to take a step back and look at our optimization efforts. Are we truly spending our time, talent, and treasure where it will do us the most good? Are we writing off 26% of our potential customers, allies, and applicants? It is time to make the web work for all of us, not because we have to, but because it’s good for the numbers.