Accessibility Isn’t a Buzzword or a Passing Fad – It’s the Future, and Companies Across Industries Must Ensure Inclusivity for All

Website accessibility concept

There are some things that people take for granted, such as being able to read a bank statement, navigate through a health insurance claim, or use a check-in application. But when you’re a business such as a hotel, bank, or software company, you can’t afford to ignore the needs of people with disabilities. Digital accessibility is not a luxury when it comes to software features. Companies increasingly view accessibility as essential when it comes to taking an application live, no matter which industry it’s been designed for. 

Digital accessibility encompasses making technology easier to use for people with disabilities.  As an example, a user that is blind can’t use a mouse so a website must be usable with the keyboard only.  Challenges arise in many areas of technology: on websites, when filling out electronic documents, using mobile apps, kiosks, and computer software applications. Accessibility issues also are present in digital content such as social media posts, instruction videos at the airport, and online shopping guides.

Someone that’s visually impaired may require screen reader technology, while a user with Parkinson’s disease may need keyboard buttons to navigate a website because tremors make using a mouse difficult. Meanwhile, a low vision user may require a screen magnifying program or pinch-to-zoom features to make the screen large enough to read.

Although you may not think you have the budget to invest in digital accessibility, making this investment can help avoid the significant risks you face when noncompliant with accessibility standards, including owing legal fees, suffering negative brand impact, and losing revenue. According to Accessibility.com, there were over 2,000 website accessibility lawsuits filed in 2021. This emphasizes the urgency businesses must acknowledge to make the necessary changes before they have to pay out damages for an accessibility lawsuit.

Investing in digital accessibility solutions can also help generate new business. Consumers and companies are looking to do business with organizations that prove their corporate social responsibility with inclusivity spanning all digital experiences, building brand values that reflect inclusion. Inclusiveness builds strong connections with customers and makes organizations stronger. In fact, in a 2019 Click-Away Pound report, more than 75% of customers with disabilities said they would spend their money on a website with the fewest barriers rather than choosing a website that offers the cheapest products.

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has brought the need for accessibility further into the light as more people take greater advantage of e-commerce, online business, critical government services, and education platforms. In practice, accessibility generally means ensuring conformance to the most recent version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – especially in industries that utilize apps and other digital interfaces to interact with consumers, such as banking and hospitality.

Let’s take a look at some industries in which digital accessibility is vital:

Financial Services

When it comes to exchanging money and purchasing goods, customers need these processes to be seamless. During the pandemic, more people used digital tools to avoid exposure to the virus at banks, reducing in-person access to tellers. Therefore, banking apps needed to increase digital accessibility for all their members to ensure not only customer service, but business continuity as well.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires financial institutions to provide accessibility to people with disabilities both in-person and online. To keep mobile tools accessible, banks provide accommodations with screen readers, online chats, and talking ATMs.

The use cases for digital accessibility are endless:

  • Digital tools help make applying for credit cards and using retirement income calculator tools more accessible. Screen magnifying programs can increase the size of these calculators for people with low vision.
  • People with difficulty using a mouse may struggle when researching home improvement loans. To help people navigate online loan applications, developers should incorporate ways to interact with keyboard elements such as arrows.
  • Hearing-impaired customers may not be able to read and download monthly statements. This process involves using HTML table elements that incorporate <th> tags for accessibility.

Hospitality

Hotels, bars, and restaurants must keep their services accessible to avoid cutting off a large segment of their customers. Many people choose not to travel when they believe their destination will lack sufficient accessibility. However, keeping hospitality services accessible will not only keep customers comfortable but grow your business.

Businesses in the tourism industry must ensure services are accessible so customers who have hearing or vision difficulties can use hotel check-in kiosks or a tour guide’s website when the color scheme or font is unreadable. Since the pandemic began, many restaurants discontinued paper menus in favor of scanning a QR code to access a digital version of a menu. Incorporating screen reader and zooming compatibility will also be essential to keep all restaurant menus accessible.

Hotel booking sites and online food ordering services must remain accessible for people with conditions such as colorblindness, arthritis, autism, or dyslexia. Hotels and restaurants should support the use of head pointers and switch devices to help customers use these resources when they cannot use a mouse or navigate the site with their hands. Hotels should ensure support for voice recognition software in their reservation systems, so people with severe arthritis can select the dates for their stay with ease.

Meanwhile, airlines must comply with the Air Carrier Access Act (AAA), which prohibits airlines from discriminating against passengers due to disabilities. Airlines should incorporate pinch-to-zoom features in kiosks to help customers with low vision print boarding passes. Airline booking sites should include support for features such as zoom and screen reading.

Technology

The tech sector, particularly the software industry, is at the heart of making digital tools accessible. Accessibility is essential in all digital tools, from business software to mobile games. Ideally, every developer should have been trained on and be responsible for accessibility. The reality, however, is quite different as 40.7% of technology of organizations have only one to three people who work primarily on accessibility.

Software vendors should hire people who have special training in digital accessibility. Only 23.5% of technology organizations have International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) certified employees or contractors on their teams. In addition, software developers should incorporate accessibility early in their development life cycle. Incorporating digital accessibility from the start can be more cost-effective rather than fixing a product later. Testing the software from the start is also a cost-effective strategy. Invest in user-experience (UX) testing to ensure that software applications meet the standards of accessibility. Companies should use both automated and manual testing as part of UX as well as incorporating users that require accessibility features into the testing process.

Another important strategy involves maintaining relationships with accessibility vendors to ensure software usability for all. Accessibility vendors can help establish a companywide strategy for accessibility and develop a plan for monitoring and measuring accessibility compliance. 

Health Care

In health care, companies must maintain the accessibility of insurance claims, explanations of benefits, personal health records, and scheduling applications. In fact, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act requires that information and communications technology (ICT) must be accessible to people with disabilities. Health programs that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must comply with this rule. Accessibility needs come into play when people apply for health insurance through the Healthcare.gov marketplace. In addition, visually-impaired people must be supplied access to government resources in an alternative format, such as Braille under the Section 508 rule.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more patients turned to telehealth to avoid exposure in the doctor’s office. Telehealth challenges people with low vision, limited mobility, arthritis, or hand tremors. In a 2020 paper, the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association said that telehealth could worsen the inequities that people with disabilities face. Many video-based telehealth services and patient portals lack accessibility for all, and software vendors must redesign these services to include external assistive technology devices, easy-to-use interfaces, and compliance with WCAG AAA guidelines.

Prioritize Digital Accessibility for All

Companies across industries should incorporate accessibility into their services because it is essential to maintain a culture of inclusiveness. This culture will also boost an organization’s brand image and avoid costly litigation for non-compliance with accessibility regulations. Although many websites have critical accessibility gaps, opportunities exist for companies in industries such as health care and financial services to adopt these changes and avoid an onslaught of lawsuits or even federal sanctions. Make digital accessibility a priority for not only the wellbeing of your business, but for the wellbeing and inclusivity of consumers worldwide.