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Accessibility guide preview

Digital accessibility, inclusive human-centred design, and why it matters

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.

The business case

An estimated 1.3 billion people – or 16% of the global population – experience a significant disability today. This number is growing because of an increase in noncommunicable diseases and people living longer.

Logo of World Health Organization

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 Telegraph


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 global market of people with disabilities is over 1 billion people with a spending power of more than $6 trillion.”

Logo of W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

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.

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Litigation, legislation and regulation

Digital accessibility and inclusion is quickly becoming a priority for many organisations in both the public and private sectors.

Graph: ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits in Federal Court 2017-2022: 2017: 814; 2018: 2,258 (177% increase from 2017); 2019: 2,256 (.01% decrease from 2018), 2020: 2,523 (12% increase from 2019); 2021: 2,895 (14% increase from 2020); 2022: 3,255 (12% increase from 2021). *The number of cases that could be identified through a diligent search.
ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits in Federal Court 2017-2022

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.

So what are the legal requirements to making a website accessible?

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:

  • Websites
  • Email clients
  • Virtual learning environments
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)
  • RIA (Rich Internet Applications

Recommendations state that organisations should:

  • Consider accessibility in decision-making processes throughout the development phase of any website in accordance with WCAG standards. 
  • Have an established policy for digital accessibility, and document any decisions related to digital accessibility. 
  • Communicate accessibility decisions and goals clearly by publishing an accessibility statement on their website (more on this later). 

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: 

  • Make their website or mobile app compliant to WCAG accessibility standards
  • Publish an accessibility statement on their website
  • Include disabled users in user research
  • Test with common assistive technologies

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.

Screenshot from Deque wbinar with list of notable adoption of WCAG 2.X
WCAG 2.2: An Overview of the New Accessibility Guidelines, Deque webinar

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.

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