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Accessibility is an incredibly important, yet critically often overlooked, aspect of digital user experience.
As individuals, it’s easy to use our own abilities as a baseline and evaluate digital products based on our own bias. Because of this, our products may be easy to use for people who are like us, but may exclude others.
This problem persists both inside the technology industry (at a supplier level) and also in the global marketplace at large. Tota11y estimates that over 95% of developers have had no accessibility training and did not learn it as part of training to be an engineer.
Accessibility needs advocates and allies at all levels of business to ensure that it is understood as a core business requirement, without exception. Accessibility is most commonly sidelined due to a fundamental misunderstanding of its meaning and benefits, alongside a plethora of common business case excuses predicated on misconceptions.
World Health Organisation
Inevitably, what may prove to be the strongest motivating factor for businesses seeking to make their digital products accessible is the compelling financial impetus. From a business perspective the cost of inaccessibility can cause irreparable damage to a brand.
Whilst accessibility may seem like an additional cost constraint the results benefit both businesses, in terms of return on investment (ROI), and a larger number of people who can use products or services.
The best way to present this argument is with cold hard statistics:
There are over 16 million disabled people in the UK, that’s approximately 1 in 4
Disabled online shoppers, who click away from inaccessible websites, had a combined spending power of £17.1 billion in 2019
The Purple Pound
80% of customers with impairments spend their money where they have the easiest digital experience
Click-Away Pound Survey 2016
73% of potential disabled customers experience barriers on more than ¼ websites they visited
Click-Away Pound Survey 2016
The UK population is ageing, it’s estimate that 24.6% will be 65+ by 2050 which equates to more users relying on accessibility
The proportion of adults aged 65+ who shop online has trebled since 2008, rising from 16% to 48% in 2018
Office for National Statistics
The Web Accessibility Initiative
Not only this, but there are many other key areas of digital product improvement which overlap with accessibility standards. Site speed (Performance), SEO ranking, UX and conversion rates all increase in direct correlation with accessibility.
Take the first step towards improved digital accessibility.
Digital accessibility and inclusion is quickly becoming a priority for many organisations in both the public and private sectors.
At the time of writing, there is no legal precedent for accessibility lawsuit enforcement in the UK. Only a handful of companies have faced legal action brought by The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), but these cases reached a settlement before being heard by a court.
That’s not to say that digital accessibility shouldn’t be of growing concern to UK organisations and that we shouldn’t expect to see a similar pattern of legal action here.
The accessibility of websites in the UK commercial sector is covered, as previously mentioned, by the Equality Act 2010. On 1st October 2010 the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), along with a range of other discrimination laws, was replaced by the Equality Act 2010 in England, Wales and Scotland (in Northern Ireland the DDA is still the law).
The Equality Act covers all the provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act as well as some additional protection from indirect discrimination, discrimination arising from disability and discrimination on the basis of association or perception. The DDA states that it is unlawful for “a provider of services” to discriminate against a disabled person.
The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from discrimination and advances equality of opportunity on the grounds of nine protected characteristics, of which disability is one. This Act requires digital product owners to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their products to anticipate the needs of potential disabled customers/users.
The ISO 30071-1 digital accessibility standard, released May 2019, is an international process-orientated code of practice enabling organisations to embed accessibility in their “business as usual” processes.
It extends to cover:
Recommendations state that organisations should:
Digital accessibility in the public sector is of even greater importance because users may not have a choice when using public sector digital services, so it’s important that they work for everyone.
Similarly to the private sector the public sector is governed by the Equality Act 2010, but the requirements are more stringent.
Accessibility regulations (Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018) came into force for public sector bodies on 23 September 2018 stating that in order to meet the legal requirements all UK public service providers must:
The only argument for partial exemption from complying with these regulations is if it presents a ‘disproportionate burden’ to the organisation. This is the case if the impact of fully meeting the requirements is too much for an organisation to reasonably cope with, but the organisation would need to undertake a formal assessment to make this case.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in England, Scotland and Wales and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) in Northern Ireland will enforce the requirement to make public sector websites and mobile apps accessible.
Organisations that do not meet the accessibility requirement or fail to provide a satisfactory response to a request to produce information in an accessible format, will be failing to make ‘reasonable adjustments’.
This means they will be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The EHRC and ECNI can therefore use their legal powers against offending organisations, including investigations, unlawful act notices and court action.
More information can be found on UK public sector legal requirements on the GOV UK website.
In June 2025 the European Accessibility Act (EAA) will be enforced within the European Union member states. This directive also applies to e-commerce sites such as online stores. Not only websites inside the EU, but also websites that deliver goods or services to the EU need to be accessible.