Almost all organizations have commitments to inclusivity and support for diverse employees and customers.
So, where is the disconnect when it comes to digital accessibility? Too many organizations don’t support the basic standards outlined in the American Disability Act (ADA), exposing them to class action lawsuits and reputational risk. But beyond basic definitions of disability, organizations that don’t focus on creating digital experiences that don’t accommodate diverse and underserved users aren’t aren't meeting their social impact and inclusion goals.
More than a compliance issue?
First, accessible websites and apps can significantly boost your bottom line. According to a recent report from Gartner, organizations that invest in digital accessibility can expect to outperform their competition by 50% over three years.
Then there’s the opportunity cost: ADA requires organizations to ensure their products and services are accessible to people with disabilities. Given that more than 61 million Americans have a disability, this is a vast potential market that you could miss out on if your products and services are not accessible.
However, the most important reason is that every leader has a moral imperative to make sure everyone can use your products and services. In an increasingly connected world, accessibility is becoming more and more critical. By making your products and services accessible, companies' digital products and services become an integral part of the digital social safety net.
There are several reasons why accessibility is a C-suite problem.
The first question is who’s responsible for ensuring digital products and services are accessible. Is it the Chief Information Officer (CIO), the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), or someone else?
Second, there's the issue of competing priorities. Organizations are under pressure to deliver new products and features quickly and often view accessibility as a barrier to innovation. This can lead to a trade-off between speed and inclusion, with accessible features being left out in favor of those with a greater financial impact.
Finally, there's the challenge of changing organizational culture. Many organizations still view accessibility as a compliance issue; something that needs to be dealt with after the fact. This mindset needs to change if organizations are going to make real progress on inclusion.
For most organizations, the problem lies in the C-suite - competing agendas across leaders responsible for technology, marketing, operations, and business units often can't align on who is responsible for ensuring that digital products and services work for intended audiences.
Organizations need to take a holistic approach to accessibility, with everyone from the C-suite down playing a role in ensuring that digital products and services are accessible to all. By taking responsibility for accessibility at the highest level, organizations can set the tone for the whole organization and ensure that everyone works together to make inclusion a reality.
Accessibility should be a key concern for any organization that wants to be genuinely inclusive.
But too often, it falls by the wayside due to competing priorities at the executive level. This needs to change. If organizations are serious about supporting diversity and inclusion, they must prioritize accessibility throughout their operations. Only then will they be able to create digital products and services that meet the needs of everyone.
So what can the C-suite do to make sure their organizations are inclusive and accessible? First, they need to ensure a clear vision and strategy for accessibility. Second, they need to allocate resources and build capacity within the organization to implement that strategy. And finally, they need to measure progress and hold people accountable for results.
There are a few practical ways larger organizations have formalized programs to drive this integration, including:
- Define cross-functional accessibility goals and objectives with input from all relevant departments
- Assign clear roles and responsibilities for ADA compliance across the organization
- Integrate accessibility into existing workflows and processes
- Create a working group that reports on digital inclusion to the CEO or board
- Link performance and program funding to accessibility targets
Adopting practices like these can help organizations close the accessibility gap and make digital products and services that are truly inclusive of all users.
Organizations that don't take accessibility seriously miss out on a huge opportunity truly act on their values, purpose and social beliefs in digital spaces. Not only is there a moral imperative to make sure everyone can use your products and services, but accessible websites and apps can also significantly boost your bottom line.
Lack of clarity leads to a patchwork approach to accessibility, with some areas of the organization progressing while others lag behind.
Since integration across functions and units within larger organizations falls to the C-suite, leaders need help coming together to ensure their organizations are inclusive and accessible to everyone. This means setting a clear vision and strategy for accessibility, allocating resources and building capacity within the organization, measuring progress, and holding people accountable for results. Only then will organizations be able to fully realize the benefits of digital inclusion.