Lost Billions: Why The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Is So Important For Businesses

Lost Billions: Why The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Is So Important For Businesses

Neglect the disabled market at your peril — ignoring guidelines outlined in the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is costing businesses billions. 

Around 70% of disabled internet users will simply leave a website if they find it inaccessible. According to the Click-Away Pound Survey, poor web accessibility cost UK companies 17.1 billion GBP in 2019. The study also shows that many major retailers are unaware that standards for supporting disabled people online even exist. With the legal landscape set to shift, there's no better time than now for businesses to get clued up on the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

The figure above should leave business owners and online service vendors alarmed, considering around 15% of the of the world's population has some form of disability. If most disabled visitors decide to leave a site and never return, businesses are missing out on the chance to convert a sizable market into a solid customer base.

Whether it's a company website, blog or a post on a video-sharing platform, disregarding accessibility can have a considerable impact on views, session times, and bounce rates —some of the key indicators for the amount of time people spend on the site. Therefore, investing time and effort into making sites and channels accessible will benefit businesses in a multitude of ways.

web accessibility initiativeAccessibility at all costs: Ignoring disabled user needs alienates a fair share of the world's population

Every customer counts

Why is it important to create accessible online content?

First and foremost, it shows that a business or service provider cares for its audience. Failing to accommodate for disabled users means around 1 billion people around the world are not given the same treatment as the rest of the site's visitors. 

Disability comes in many shapes and forms. It may be a temporary injury like a broken wrist hindering your ability to type, whereas severe issues such as permanent cognitive and visual impairments are classified as long-term disabilities. It is also worth noting that the chances of having disabling conditions become greater as we get older: almost half of over 60s experience some sort of moderate to severe disability. 

From a financial standpoint, reaching out to disabled people helps tap into a large potential market. In the United States, disabled consumers control around half a trillion dollars in disposable income each year. Businesses administering inaccessible websites are unlikely to see their cut of this considerable pool of spending money.

Accessible websites tend to be easier to use for everyone. As well as benefitting deaf and hard of hearing viewers, subtitles are also popular with the general population. Whether it's a case of picking up a new language or needing help to follow unclear speech, 80% of UK TV watchers have used closed captions for reasons other than hearing loss.

Finally, a lack of accessibility could land businesses in legal hot water. Last year, the UsableNet research team recorded 2,235 lawsuits against companies for digital inaccessibility. In 2017, supermarket chain Winn-Dixie was sued because screen readers wouldn't work on the company website. 

web accessibility initiative 1The customer is king: The number of US lawsuits for failing to ensure web accessibility has increased in recent years

Sticking to guidelines

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) was set up to give businesses a better understanding of disabled users' needs online. But what does it entail exactly?

In short, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) comprises strategies, standards, and resources to make the internet more accessible. To do so, the WAI provides accessibility guidelines and advice on how to follow them.

One of the most important set of standards in the WAI is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The latest version, WCAG 2.1, aims to make content more accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities, such as hearing loss, vision impairment, cognitive disability, and motor impairment.

The WCAG is based on four main principles:

1. Perceivable
2. Operable
3. Understandable
4. Robust

These guidelines are then subdivided into WCAG success criteria. Here are a few examples:

1.4.4 Resize Text: Text can be scaled up so that it can read by a user with visual disabilities.

1.4.5 Images of Text: Real text is used instead of images of text, so that screen readers are able to detect what is written.

2.3.2 Three Flashes: To reduce the chance of seizures, the website does not contain any content that flashes three times within a one second period.

web accessibility initiative 2World Wide WCAG: The screenshot above highlights errors in the website that contravene Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) standards

Enter video

In recent years, there has been a marked shift to video for online content, especially on social media. Do the Web Accessibility Initiative's guidelines take this into account?

The requirements are indeed outlined specifically in the WCAG, namely under the success criteria for captions and audio description. This is to ensure videos are accessible for the deaf, blind, hearing impaired, and visually impaired. There has been an upsurge in visual content that include subtitles, which shouldn't come as a surprise when considering 85% of Facebook videos are watched with the sound off.

Yet while closed captions are thriving online, audio description continues to lag increasingly further behind. As EU law is being reinforced in September 2020, media service providers, supported by their governments, will have to catch up somehow.

An audio description involves a narrator providing important visual details that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone. The main reason for its lack of availability online is money. Audio description requires numerous costly stages of production, from hiring a manuscript writer and voice artist to renting recording studios and sound engineers.

recording studioQuality at a premium: Traditional audio description production requires various actors and expensive equipment

For small budget productions which make up the vast majority of videos posted online, it makes no sense to invest in creating an accompanying audio description. And with hundreds of hours worth of footage being uploaded onto video-sharing platforms every minute, the accessibility gap is continually getting wider for visually impaired users.

Seizing the initiative, Berlin-based tech company ubiqvid developed Frazier, a cost-effective and efficient authoring tool for creating barrier-free videos. The platform allows the manuscript writer to work on everything alone, thus eliminating many of the traditional production steps. Voice artists are replaced with state-of-the-art synthetic voice options, while ubiqvid takes care of the sound engineering with rapid turnaround times. Closed captioning is also included, ensuring ubiqvid conforms to all Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) standards. 

With laws being tightened and legal action on the increase, businesses have no choice but to embrace digital accessibility. At the same time, this is a great opportunity to expand into the still largely underutilized disabled market. For video accessibility, ubiqvid is on hand to help businesses every step of the way.

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