The Social Factors of Website Accessibility
This blog post is part of a series of posts discussing the Business Case for Accessibility. In order to get a full view of the Business Case for Accessibility, I encourage you to read all posts in this series, links to which can be found at the bottom of this post.
The arguments discussing social factors often revolve around the sentiment that “Accessibility is the right thing to do”. I cannot argue with this at all. Accessibility is the right thing to do. I believe in this and that is why I do what I do. But is this a Business Case? Well, turns out it sort of is, as it fits squarely within Corporate Social Responsibility. CSR is a broad topic – far too broad for this blog post – but the implication as it relates to the accessibility business case is that having an accessible website will make you more money because it increases positive regard for your company.
- Does it increase income?I’m not sure. When it comes to other industries and other approaches to CSR, the ROI has allegedly been proven [PDF]. It is easy to see when it comes to the environment and sustainability that CSR and ROI can go hand-in-hand. The catch here is that I’ve not seen any evidence to demonstrate that web accessibility-related CSR has a monetary ROI.
- Does save money? Some CSR might but not when it comes to web accessibility, as far as I can tell.
- Does it mitigate risk?Probably. Ultimately, the CSR aspect of web accessibility is a risk mitigation, which I’ll discuss separately.
- How strong is the evidence?Weak. Even in other industries, ROI from CSR is a contentious issue.
When people talk about the benefits of CSR, they mainly speak about the following benefits:
- Cost savings (i.e. energy, supply cost)
- General reputation of organization
- Reputation among investors
- Better supplier relationships
- Ability to attract and retain employees
- Ability attract and retain customers
- Relationship with the media
Unfortunately, I can’t say that any person I know has ever chosen to do business with a website explicitly because the company does (or does not) have an accessible website apart from the obvious cases where a friend with disabilities cannot use a site. In other words, the accessibility of a site definitely plays a factor for specific populations, but I doubt that applies to the general population. Heck, I know environmentalists who buy gas from BP and Exxon! Additionally, I’m not sure that accessibility-related CSR has assisted an organization gain more investors. However, I do know non-profits where accessibility-related CSR has been integrated into their CSR plans and mission statements.
Part of the lack of CSR ROI from Accessibility might be due to missed PR opportunities. What I mean is that most people with accessible websites aren’t taking advantage of the PR opportunities afforded to them by having an accessible site. As I discuss elsewhere, there’s a possibility of being able to market to 7-10% of the US population with specific disabilities that affect the ability to use the Web, thus turning CSR into ROI.