Optimizing the online experience for disabilities improves it for all customers

43% of people with disabilities abandoned an online purchase because of accessibility issues.

What if I told you there’s a huge, under-served consumer group that you can market to in such a way that it will improve all your marketing? Bet you’d be pretty interested. Good news: There is. And, if that’s not incentive enough, failing to address their needs could get you sued under a major federal law. 

That consumer group is people with disabilities. More than a quarter (26%) of adults in the United States have some type of disability. Their annual disposable income is nearly $ 500 billion. In the U.K. 22% of the total population have a disability. They and their families are a $ 288 billion market, according to We Are Purple, a U.K. non-profit supporting people with disabilities. Globally, disabled people, on their own, have $ 1.15 trillion in annual disposable income, according to the same report. 

Connecting with them requires implementing accessible marketing. That’s when products, services, media and marketing are consciously designed so everyone (including people with disabilities or impairments) can experience them. 

Optimizing your digital marketing this way is a win/win, says Anastasia Leng, founder & CEO of Creative X, a global, integrated creative agency. 

“It has both performance and brand benefits,” says Leng, who is visually impaired. “For the cynical marketers who aren’t convinced of the value of making their ads accessible for social inclusion reasons, think of it this way: Providing alt text, adding subtitles, checking ads for contrast, and ensuring a minimum text size for readability will make your content more readable, digestible and accessible to everyone, especially on mobile devices.”

Different types of obstacles

She says making inaccessible ads is like putting up physical hurdles to get into a brick-and-mortar store. “Most consumers are spoiled for choice and will simply go somewhere else when presented with hurdles to … actually engage with the message of your content,” she adds.

The statistics back her up. Some 43% of people with disabilities said accessibility issues quite often force them to abandon an online shopping attempt without buying, according to the U.K.’s Business Disability Forum.

If the moral and monetary arguments aren’t enough, consider the legal one. Businesses whose websites aren’t accessible to people with disabilities can be sued under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The ADA, the DOJ and You

“One in four Americans have some form of disability, and then you project that out to the world and we’re talking about billions of people,” says John Hendricks, CEO and founder of ERGO, an email content automation provider. “And, strangely enough, corporate America has not gotten on board with this stuff. Amazon, Hulu, Burger King, and others have been sued for digital violations of the ADA.”

And what makes a website inaccessible to people with disabilities? According to the Department of Justice it includes:

  • Poor color contrast.
  • Reliance on color to provide information.
  • Lack of text alternatives, or alt-text, on images.
  • No captions on videos.
  • Inaccessible online forms.
  • Mouse-only navigation rather than keyboard navigation.

Fortunately, a lot of marketers get it. Nearly 70% believe providing accessibility is important to executing successful marketing campaigns, according to a study by Capterra, an online marketplace vendor. Also, 83% say their company is doing more to provide accessibility in digital marketing than it did in the past.

As the report notes, “Compliance is not the main focus among marketers. Companies appear to be driven ultimately by the need to better serve customers.” It’s certainly not concern about lawsuits. Half of marketers in the survey said there’s no U.S. law requiring website accessibility. 

Not all impairments are equal

For the most part companies are focused on making changes to accommodate physical impairments rather than cognitive ones. Marketers say they are more likely to provide visual (66%) and hearing (56%) accessibility features than ones for people with learning issues such ADHD and dyslexia. That’s because they incorrectly believe that more people have the former than the latter.

While some accessibility features overlap for all these groups — high contrast text and alt tags for example, optimizing for cognitive issues requires more focus on design simplicity and consistency. This includes:

  • Have a clean, well-organized, uniform look.
  • Avoid clutter; include sufficient white space.
  • Avoid too many choices, or too much information on one screen.
  • Avoid lengthy scrolling; provide links to additional content.
  • Provide easy-to-find and clearly identified buttons and links.
  • Standardize navigation controls; be consistent.
  • Avoid large blocks of text.
  • Use clear language and short sentences.

Different types of accessibility

As Anastasia Leng points out, design improvements aren’t the entire story here.

“Content accessibility should be thought of in two ways: an emotional one and a practical one,” she says. “Emotionally, we want to see people in ads that look like us, live like us, behave like us — this is typically described as the representation issue. Practically speaking, we must be able to engage with a piece of content by being able to see it, hear it, or interpret it.”

It’s also important to note that providing an accessible online experience is going to be more important as time passes. As the Congressional Budget Office notes, the U.S. population is “projected to become older, on average, as growth in the number of people age 65 or older outpaces that of younger age groups.” And an older population is a more impaired one.

“When we turn 50 the amount of light that hits the back of our eyes drops by 50% no matter what,” says John Hendricks. “That’s without any sort of congenital or other type of disability. So we’re not just talking about a small subset of people.”

Eventually, impairment comes to us all.

The post Optimizing the online experience for disabilities improves it for all customers appeared first on MarTech.


About The Author

Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.