Massive business case for accessibility

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

At the recent First European e-Accessibility Forum run by BrailleNet in Paris I listened to a very powerful business case for accessibility.

Julie Howell, from the digital design agency Fortune Cookie, introduced one of her clients, David Wilton, from the UK financial services company Legal & General.

Legal & General’s business case for accessibility had been presented at previous accessibility conferences that I attended but then the figures were considered confidential. I can now include the numbers and also discuss some of the implications of them.

Legal & General had been getting complaints about the web site because it was not accessible to some people with disabilities. In particular these complaints were landing on David’s desk, he therefore went to the board to ask for the money to improve the web site. The main justifications were:

  • The company had a moral obligation to be inclusive.
  • The potential extra business from the disabled community.
  • Some competitors were providing a better service to this community.
  • The legal requirements.

Legal & General contracted Fortune Cookie to redevelop the site. After ensuring the new site conformed to all the relevant accessibility standards, that it passed user testing, and that it was successfully evaluated by the Shaw Trust, the site went live.

Legal & General had been tracking the use and performance of the original site and continued tracking the new design. The results make a strong business case for accessibility:

  • Take up of some financial products via the site increased by 300%
  • Maintenance costs were reduced by 66%
  • Natural search improved by 50%
  • Customers reported that the site looked and performed better.
  • The number of users who accessed the home page and then left the site reduced by 10%.
  • The number of complaints about the inaccessibility of the web site fell to zero.

All of these statistics are excellent and can be seen to have a direct effect on the profitability of Legal & General which far outweighed the expenditure and demonstrate excellent return-on-investment (ROI). Good news for Legal & General and recognition for David and Fortune Cookie.

But looking behind the numbers I think there is a very important message for the accessibility industry. Which of the above numbers can we say happened because the site is now more accessible to disabled people?

  • Obviously the reduction in the number of complaints about accessibility is a direct consequence.
  • A percentage of the conversions must be disabled people who could not use the old site; but I would assume the majority of new conversions are able-bodied customers who just found the new design more usable.
  • The other results are independent of the ability of the customer and apply equally to disabled and able-bodied people.

The message is that thinking about, and designing for, accessibility is the best way to:

  • Improve the quality of code and thus reduce maintenance and improve performance.
  • Increase the search engine ranking and drive more visitors to the site.
  • Increase the usability, which ensures more visitors stay on the site and then convert to customers.
  • Improve the look and feel of a site for all, giving the users a pleasant experience and reducing complaints.
  • Provide a site that can be used for small format devices such as mobiles, PDAs and UMPCs.

These benefits should be attractive to any CEO, CIO or Marketing Director even if they are not convinced about, or do not understand, the importance of access for disabled people.

In my research on accessibility I attend conferences and I listen and talk about accessibility with academics, consultants, advocates, vendors, CIOs and users. My perception is that selling accessibility purely on the benefits to the disabled community is an uphill battle. This is borne out by the facts that:

  • Most web sites and other ICT solutions are not fully accessible.
  • Accessibility conferences have very few delegates from the commercial sector.
  • Vendors do not include accessibility as part of their mainstream literature.

My conclusion is that advocates of accessibility, including myself, should spend less time and effort talking about the benefits to disabled people, however important we think this is. Instead we should talk about accessibility as a discipline that improves the usability and quality of solutions for all users; and thus improves return on investment and profitability. As an aside we should say that:

  • It is morally correct.
  • It demonstrates Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • It is a legal duty.
  • It increases the potential visitor base.

If we talk in these terms we should get want we want with much less effort.