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Top 5 ways to ensure digital accessibility is top of the board agenda

Words by
21 June, 2024
2 mins read

In our increasingly digital business world, the importance of accessibility cannot be overstated. We rely on digital platforms for working, shopping, learning, and entertainment. Yet, as more services move online, the risk of excluding a significant portion of potential customers and employees grows.

In a recent report, “An Immature Response? Why Organizations are Failing to Build Digitally Accessible Products and Services,” which is available for download here , Jonathan Hassell, CEO of Hassell Inclusion shares 5 actions to take to ensure digital accessibility is top of the board agenda in 2024.

The accessibility gap

Currently, four in ten people have digital accessibility needs, but only 20% of websites and mobile apps are fully accessible. This disparity is not just a social issue; it’s a business one, especially during economic challenges where every customer counts.

Companies need to ensure they are reaching and engaging with the broadest audience possible. Despite the increasing focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) at the board level, digital accessibility often lacks dedicated senior-level attention.

A recent report, “An Immature Response? Why Organizations are Failing to Build Digitally Accessible Products and Services,” reveals that accessibility is not receiving the investment it deserves. Nearly half (47%) of the surveyed businesses do not have a board member responsible for digital accessibility, and only one in four CEOs and financial directors are aware of their digital accessibility obligations.

The importance of leadership commitment

The report highlights that chief technology officers, heads of digital, heads of UX, and HR leaders—those who should be leading the charge on digital accessibility—are not making significant commitments in this area. However, data shows that organizations with proactive approaches to digital accessibility, supported by engaged leadership, achieve better results and return on investment (ROI). Analyzing nearly 300 responses to the ISO 30071-1 Digital Accessibility Maturity Scorecard survey, the report underscores the importance of board-level support for embedding organizational change around digital inclusion.

The business case for accessibility

Investing in digital accessibility can yield substantial commercial benefits, from improved reputation and increased revenue to enhanced customer and employee loyalty. So, what steps should business leaders take in 2024 to prioritize digital accessibility across their organizations?

  1. Define Senior-Level Responsibility: Appoint a senior-level digital accessibility program manager to lead a project team. This team should own, drive, and report on progress against a strategic accessibility maturity plan. Ensure the plan includes adequate training and the creation and communication of policies and processes to embed digital accessibility into the organization’s DNA.
  2. Embed Accessibility Across the Organization: For accessibility to be effective, it must be integrated across all levels of the organization and with all stakeholders. This includes ensuring that external digital suppliers are on board by incorporating digital accessibility requirements into procurement processes.
  3. Adopt a Strategic Approach: Successful digital accessibility requires a strategic approach, ensuring accessibility is integrated into processes rather than treated as a tactical add-on. This approach prevents the need for costly retrofitting of services that don’t meet accessibility standards from the outset.
  4. Recognize the Value: Many organizations (62%) fail to understand or measure the ROI of digital accessibility. Recognizing the benefits—from increased customer bases to a more loyal workforce—and tracking progress is essential for driving success.
  5. Design for Accessibility Throughout Development: Accessibility should be a core consideration throughout the development of all digital products. Regular monitoring, checking, and fixing of accessibility issues post-launch ensure ongoing compliance and usability.

Towards a more inclusive digital future

The trend towards improving digital accessibility is growing, with many businesses making positive strides. However, there is still significant work to be done. The analysis found that 35% of organizations would launch digital products with known accessibility issues, and one in five did not consider accessibility during the design phase.

A proactive approach to digital accessibility benefits everyone, unlocking potential among customers, employees, investors, and stakeholders who may have been previously overlooked. This shift requires changes in product design, development, testing, supplier contracts, and team training.

With DE&I commitments becoming integral to brand identity and more roles dedicated to digital accessibility, there’s increasing pressure for senior-level representation of accessibility. This top-level accountability ensures that digital accessibility is well-funded, well-planned, and efficiently delivered.

The digital accessibility opportunity is one that no forward-thinking organization can afford to ignore. Ensuring accessibility is not just a moral imperative but a strategic business advantage.

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David Ryckman

David is a regular contributor and sub-editor for Who Design Today. He is a Managing Partner at Kwibb and has a keen eye for design and branding.

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