Economic entities such as businesses, hospitals, federal agencies, and the like underwent several social revolutions and reforms before attaining the current form and structure. This included laying out guidelines for ethics, equality, and accessibility.
Accessibility, in particular, helps sustain inclusivity and diversity in our society. Although brands have been quick to adopt newfound strategies and techniques to improve most aspects of their business, they often overlook accessibility either due to lack of awareness or challenges in implementation. What many of these organizations fail to notice is that accessibility and economy are, in fact, interconnected.
Here are some of the reasons why accessibility could and will be the X factor for numerous brands and organizations:
Building Customer Loyalty
Every organization’s revenue is directly proportional to the strength of its customer base. Whether it’s a federal organization or a private company, the end goal’s the same: meeting the needs of the consumer or customer.
Several companies overlook accessibility due to lack of resources, lack of awareness, or limited budgets. But what they don’t realize is the positive impact accessibility can have on the economy. Individuals with disabilities make up 15 percent of the world’s total population. Just by making their content accessible, businesses can extend their products/services to an additional 1 billion people. Everyone is a stakeholder at some level and when it comes to public policy that is indeed the case. Then shouldn’t accessibility be a top-of-mind priority for these entities?
$1.6T is lost every year in the US because of poor customer service.Source: Accenture
Companies are usually concerned with the bottom line, and return on investment (ROI) is a major factor that decides how funds are allocated in an organization. But when businesses fail to notice people with disabilities as potential customers, the question isn’t only about ethics but also about a lost revenue stream.
Brands often commission surveys to assess how their products are faring in the market. But only a handful of surveys have sought to find out how people with disabilities are using a company’s products/services. Not taking people with disabilities into account while compiling these studies makes investment returns on accessibility a mystery. Brands that start paying attention to the needs and expectations of people with disabilities will reap rich rewards that will manifest in the form of repeat customers.
Several federal organizations have already started taking note of the negative impact of inaccessibility on the economy. For instance, the International Transport Forum ran a survey recently to measure the economic impact of making transport services accessible. It was found that around 70 percent of people using mobility aids had difficulty in seeing, walking, hearing, concentrating, and socializing. Making transport accessible meant that people with disabilities soon started making use of these facilities for the very first time which automatically boosted the local economy. It was also found that the Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR) for accessibility features was positive for both current and forecasted trends. These features not only included mobility aids, accessible buses and taxis but also meant making information accessible through the provision of accessible devices at bus stations. According to a Conference Board of California report, accessible workspaces and facilities allow people with physical disabilities to participate fully in the workforce and therefore will increase the overall economic activity in the state to 16.8 billion dollars by 2030.
The positive economic impact does not end with transport and physically accessible services. Digital accessibility has also created a similar impact and the ongoing pandemic has made it somewhat of a necessity. With restricted access to in-person services, people’s reliance on the online world has increased tremendously.
Improving Customer Experience
User experience is defined as the overall experience of a person using a product in terms of its intuitiveness or aesthetics. Realizing its importance in this digital age, companies have allocated sizable resources to ensure the user experience of their product remains positive. But many businesses and even designers, for that matter, fail to realize that user experience not only relies on design and usability but also inclusivity and accessibility. A rich user experience boosts business in several ways as market trends indicate that 70 percent of products available today are shaped by it.
Why Improve Customer Experience?
In the same survey report by the International Transport Forum (mentioned above), various individuals’ R-R intervals (RRI) were measured to check their stress levels while entering an airport terminal. The interval between the generated R waves (the biggest wave generated by the human heart) is known as RRI and it is longer during rest and shorter during physical activity or a stressful situation. The mean RRI of individuals with disabilities were found to be short. This indicated that the stress levels while traversing through the terminal were way higher for these individuals than their able-bodied counterparts. It also meant that a few changes might eventually be required to reduce the stress levels of people with disabilities while elevating their experience of the place or service.
Digital accessibility also plays a crucial role in user experience. Consider three companies A, B, and C. Each of these companies builds a website from scratch to advertise their products and services. Company A puts together a website with a visually attractive user interface (UI) but fails to avoid low contrast font and skimps on accessibility features. Company B creates an equally attractive website, avoids using low contrast font but fails to implement accessibility features. Company C also comes up with an appealing website but goes the extra mile in making the site compliant with all the requisite accessibility laws and standards.
Most business models have focused on self-interest instead of user experience.”Tim Cook
Over time, company C’s website will witness a steady influx of traffic compared to company A and B’s websites as color blind and visually challenged users can navigate it easily.
Driving Website Traffic
Website traffic and other metrics provide clear data regarding website visibility. A detailed analysis of the website traffic data lets brands know who their major consumers are, the demographic they belong to, etc. To improve customer retention, companies have started relying on tried and tested methods like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), inbound marketing, to name a few. Digital accessibility, too, can help increase website traffic. Search engines like Google have clear guidelines on ways to improve the search engine ranking of a website by making its content accessible: making content screen reader-friendly, a good content hierarchy with structured header tags, alternative text with keywords, video transcriptions, and accessible links. As stated earlier, digital accessibility guarantees a rich user experience, which in turn is one of the driving forces behind increased traffic.
Maintaining Brand Reputation
Brand perception is a broader concept compared to user experience as it involves the company as a whole and not just its products/services. How people perceive a brand determines the number of repeat and new customers that that brand will acquire. Brand perception can be impacted negatively by factors such as lawsuits. Many companies having realized the importance of brand perception have adopted various ways to alter that perception to their advantage. A company can project itself as a brand with a conscience by engaging with customers, taking customer feedback seriously, and fostering a work culture that is diverse and inclusive.
It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.Warren Buffet
Accessibility, too, can help in creating a positive brand image. If a user with disabilities finds that a website is accessible, they pass on the message to other folks in the disabled community. Thanks to word-of-mouth advertising, the company has not only created a positive brand outlook but also gained additional customers in the process. Researches indicate that people are more likely to trust a brand suggested by a friend or an acquaintance. To sum up, any brand that does not take accessibility for granted will end up dominating the market.
The nexus between accessibility and economy runs deep. The roots of this connection can be found in growing organizations yet, despite the current regulations, people with disabilities still have trouble consuming web content as organizations continue to cut corners when it comes to accessibility. Only if organizations make a conscious effort to sensitize themselves to the advantages of accessibility, and embrace the concept of universal design wholeheartedly, can the system become more inclusive and diverse.