Curb cuts are a great example of universal design. Originally, curb cuts were added to sidewalks to accommodate those in wheelchairs, so they could access the road from the sidewalk and vice versa. However, curb cuts are helpful for many people — not just those in wheelchairs — including a person pushing a baby stroller, a cyclist, or an elderly person using a walker. The addition of a smooth gradient ramp allows anyone, who may have difficulty stepping or who may be pushing something, to smoothly enter the sidewalk via a ramp, rather than having to climb a curb. Although curb cuts were initially designed to help those in wheelchairs, they have come to benefit many more people.
From a web accessibility perspective, most of the accessibility features you might add to a website will have that so-called “curb cut effect.” For example, the text description one might include with an image to make the image’s meaning accessible to a person who is blind also makes it possible for search engines to index the image and make it searchable. It allows a person on a slow Internet connection to turn images off and still get the same information. Or, it allows a person using a text-based browser (on a cell phone, for instance) to access the same information as those using a typical visual browser. Virtually every such feature that might be put in place in web content to accommodate people with disabilities will improve access and usability for everyone else.
The Business Case for Web Accessibility
Video: The Business Case for Accessibility (3:29)
Karl Groves wrote an interesting series of articles in 2011 and 2012 that looked at the reality of business arguments for web accessibility. He points out that any argument needs to answer affirmatively at least one of the following questions:
- Will it make us money?
- Will it save us money?
- Will it reduce risk?
He outlines a range of potential arguments for accessibility:
- Improved search engine optimization: Customers will be able to find your site more easily because search engines can index it more effectively.
- Improved usability: Customers will have a more satisfying experience, and thus spend more on or return more often to your site.
- Reduced website costs: Developing to standard reduces bugs and interoperability issues, reducing development costs and problems integrating with other systems.
- People with disabilities have buying power: They won’t spend if they have difficulty accessing your site; they will go to the competition that does place importance on accessibility.
- Reduced resource utilization: Building to standard reduces the use of resources.
- Support for low bandwidth: If your site takes too long to load, people will go elsewhere.
- Social responsibility: Customers will come if they see you doing good for the world and you are thinking of people with disabilities as full citizens.
- Support for aging populations: Aging populations also have money to spend and will come to your site over the less accessible, less usable competition.
- Reduced legal risk: You may be sued if you prevent equal access for citizens/customers or discriminate against people with disabilities.
What accessibility really boils down to is “quality of work,” as Groves states. When approaching web accessibility, you may be better off not thinking so much in terms of reducing the risk of being sued or losing customers because your site takes too long to load. Rather, if the work that you do is quality work, then the website you present to your potential customers is a quality website.
If you’d like to learn more about business cases, here are a few references: