Who Pays the Price for Accessibility?

Written by Wholegrain Team - January 30, 2015

Today, it’s hard to conceive of our lives without the internet. You can experience the world at your fingertips with the simple click of a mouse – as long as you can use a mouse, you can see the screen and you can hear any audio… In other words, as long as you don’t suffer from any sort of visual, hearing, motor or cognitive disability.

The Equality Act 2010 states that every business and organisation has a legal duty to ensure that their services and information are accessible to all, regardless of whether people pay for them or they are provided free of charge. But making websites accessible takes time and therefore often incurs a higher cost, and many businesses and organisations are not willing to pay the extra. So who should pay the price for accessibility and are there ever any exceptions?

The Importance of Accessibility

Architects and building engineers are aware of the implications of the Equality Act in their everyday professional lives and they strive to remove the physical barriers that hinder access to buildings and facilities. But it’s more difficult to see those barriers online.

For people with disabilities, it’s difficult to emphasise the impact the internet has made on their lives. People with a visual impairment who previously had to rely on a kind friend or the arrival of Braille printouts or expensive audio tapes to read the newspapers can now use a screen reader and have access to the news as soon as it’s published.

People with motor disabilities can use assistive technologies that adapt the computer interface to their disabilities, whether via eye-tracking software or a simple stick in the mouth so they can control their computer with keyboard commands. And those who are deaf can watch online videos and audio by the use of transcriptions or captions.

However, when websites are designed without accessibility in mind, they have the potential to create barriers that exclude disabled people from using them – which takes away a disabled person’s independence, leaves them despondent and dependent on others, and contravenes their basic human rights.

And it’s not a simple matter of conforming to the law either; it’s also about your reputation as an organisation. By ensuring your website is accessible, you are showing the world that you care, and reaching a significantly wider audience in the process – there are approximately 11.9 million people in the UK who suffer from some form of disability, many of whom need special technology to use the internet, and they have a combined spending power of £80 billion. Can you really afford to exclude such a large section of the population?

Making Websites Accessible

Four main types of disability need to be considered when making websites accessible:

  1. Visual: This covers blindness, colour-blindness and low vision. The necessary adaptions are alternative text to enable screen reader software to read the text, making the text available in different sizes for those with low vision, and using sufficient contrast between the foreground and background colours so those who suffer from colour-blindness can read the text.
  2. Hearing: With the use of video and audio on the rise, it’s essential to provide transcriptions and captions for all content so those who are deaf or hard of hearing can access the information and follow the action.
  3. Motor: This includes people who cannot move a mouse, have a slow response time or suffer limited movement. Websites need to be easy to navigate without using a mouse for those who need to rely on the keyboard or some form of assistive device.
  4. Cognitive: This covers those who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia, the inability to focus on one thing for long periods, or are easily distracted. For this group, text needs to be laid out logically, be well presented and have graphical icons to aid navigation.

There are no absolute guidelines to how designers and developers should make websites accessible, but the W3C is acknowledged as the industry standards setting body and they are responsible for the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which sets out three priority levels that websites should aspire to.

The Cost of Accessibility

One of the biggest debates surrounding web accessibility issues is the cost of accessibility and who should foot the bill – the client or the web design agency?

Making websites accessible comes with an increased cost because it takes time. And time costs money. It’s easy to surmise that because all websites need a basic level of accessibility, that cost should be included in the initial quote for the job. However, if two agencies quote for the same job and the design and functionality appear broadly similar but one includes accessibility as standard and the other doesn’t, who is more likely to be awarded the contract? If functionality and quality are the same on both and the client is only concerned about their staff, who don’t suffer from any sort of disability, they will naturally choose the cheaper option.

There is also an argument that including accessibility as standard is inappropriate in some cases because the organisation in question is aiming their product at a highly specific target market, such as airline pilots whose profession dictates that they cannot suffer from any issues that would affect website accessibility. So quoting for a fully accessible website is an additional and unnecessary expense.

Including the cost of accessibility as standard can be a further deterrent to small businesses and start-ups that don’t have the financial might of large organisations or government departments. Forcing them to pay for accessibility costs may prevent them from creating a website altogether which could have a catastrophic effect on the success of their venture.

Moving away from financial cost, web accessibility can also have a cost to the overall image of a website. Sometimes, a company’s branding dictates specific fonts or colours that contradict accessibility good practice, for example, they use fonts that are difficult to read or use a subtle colour scheme that doesn’t have a strong enough contrast for people who suffer colour-blindness. Many companies are willing to accept some modifications, or have an accessible version of the site created, but others aren’t willing to make this compromise.

Who Pays for Accessibility?

Ultimately, there is no easy answer to this question and there are many different sides to consider. As a web design agency, we don’t include the cost of accessibility in our initial quotes, unless specifically requested, because there are situations where it isn’t always necessary, and it can be prohibitive when clients have a very limited budget. It’s treated as an additional cost because it involves additional time and work.

However, all parties have a duty to do more. Businesses and organisations need to acknowledge the importance of accessibility, and the limitations they are unwittingly imposing on their website by not paying for it. A good website is an essential investment so by including the cost of accessibility in your initial investment you can instantly reach a much wider audience.

As web designers, we have a responsibility as well. WordPress is founded on the principles of an inclusive community, and the CMS, along with a high-quality theme, already has a good amount of accessibility built in. By ensuring that staff are trained in accessibility and we have a firm understanding of accessibility good practices and the right toolset for the job, we can keep these costs to a minimum.

Accessibility is a big subject, and this blog merely scratches the surface of the different arguments. The needs of different disabled people can be complex, but by making your site accessible, your website will have a much higher audience, which will increase the chance of sales and conversions. Perhaps a good solution is to take an agile approach, incorporating elements of accessibility from the outset, ensuring that you have a good basic, cleanly coded website that everybody can access, and then adding more complex features, if required, when you have the available finances.

Ultimately, web accessibility is vital for disabled people, and by building accessible websites the web will become a better place for everybody.

What are your thoughts on accessibility and its associated costs? Tell us below.