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Why digital accessibility should be part of every PR professional’s strategy

by | May 7, 2024 | Marketing, Public Relations

As a PR professional today, digital accessibility is not just a technical requirement; it’s a strategic asset that can significantly enhance your toolkit. By ensuring your digital content is accessible, you not only comply with various legal standards but also open your brand to a broader audience, enriching user engagement and ultimately positively impacting your bottom line.  

Understanding digital accessibility

Digital accessibility involves designing websites, documents, content, tools, and technologies so that people with disabilities, including those with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual ones, can use them. Approximately 15 percent of the world’s population (or just over one billion people) lives with some form of disability. Not addressing this significant market segment can mean lost revenue opportunities and potential legal and brand image risks. 

The economic influence of the disability community

According to the Valuable 500, a global initiative that focuses on putting disability on the business leadership agenda, “We are at a tipping point where there is an ongoing need to take more action for inclusivity for both consumers and employees. Disability is not a minority issue and businesses can no longer afford to ignore the value of more than one billion people. The disabled community represents $8 trillion a year in disposable income, according to estimates, and $13 trillion when including friends and family.” 

These significant figures highlight the economic impact of people with disabilities—a market as large and lucrative as any other consumer segment. Ignoring the accessibility needs of this group means potentially missing out on a substantial portion of the market. 

Legislation and compliance: More than just red tape

Globally, various legislations require digital accessibility. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (Sections 504 & 508) set standards for accessible digital content. The European Union has similar directives under the European Accessibility Act, while countries like Canada enforce the Accessible Canada Act (ACA). Non-compliance can result in hefty fines and legal fees—not to mention the negative publicity that could harm your brand. 

Understanding and navigating these legislations is crucial for PR professionals. You must ensure that all digital content, whether a press release, social media update, or your company’s website, is accessible. This not only minimizes legal risks but also positions your brand as socially responsible, enhancing its image in the public eye. 

The business benefits of digital accessibility

  • Expanding market reach: By making your digital content accessible, you tap into the vast market of users with disabilities. This often-overlooked audience possesses considerable purchasing power, which can translate directly into increased sales and service engagement. 
  • Enhancing SEO: Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial for any digital content strategy. Many accessibility adjustments, like adding alternative text for images and ensuring proper heading structures, can also boost SEO. Search engines prefer websites that provide a better user experience, which accessibility improvements certainly do. 
  • Improving brand perception: Companies that advocate for accessibility are viewed favourably by consumers, shareholders, and potential business partners. Demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity can strengthen your brand reputation, making your business a preferred choice for many. 
  • Innovating customer experience: Accessibility drives innovation by pushing you to think about different ways to present information and interact with your audience. This often leads to discovering new technologies and methods that refine the user experience for everyone, not just those with disabilities. 

Debunking digital accessibility myths

Despite the clear benefits, some businesses are still hesitant to fully commit to digital accessibility due to prevalent myths and misconceptions.  

Let’s address and debunk some of the most common myths surrounding digital accessibility: 

Myth 1: Digital accessibility is only for people with disabilities

While digital accessibility primarily benefits individuals with disabilities, its impact extends to a broader audience. For instance, elderly users, people in non-native languages, and even temporary disabilities like a broken arm can benefit from accessible design. Features like voice recognition and clear interface design improve usability for everyone, demonstrating that accessibility enhancements can enhance the user experience across the board. 

Myth 2: It’s a financial burden

The cost of implementing accessibility can be a concern for businesses, but it’s crucial to view these expenses as an investment rather than a cost. Integrating accessibility into the design phase can reduce expenses compared to retrofitting it later. Moreover, the potential market expansion and improved customer satisfaction can offset the initial setup costs. In many cases, the return on investment from reaching a wider audience and improving SEO significantly outweighs the cost of making your digital content accessible, making it a financially sound decision. 

Myth 3: Accessibility makes for a poor aesthetic design

There’s a common misconception that accessibility compromises design quality. On the contrary, accessible design often leads to cleaner, more user-friendly interfaces. Modern web design standards emphasizing minimalism and usability align with many accessibility principles. By focusing on functionality and user experience, accessible design can lead to a more streamlined and visually appealing website. 

Myth 4: Accessibility is difficult to implement

While it’s true that making digital content accessible requires some technical know-how, it’s not as daunting as it seems. Many tools and guidelines have been developed to simplify this process. Frameworks and plugins that automatically apply accessibility standards make it easier than ever to ensure your digital content is accessible. Additionally, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide clear and actionable recommendations for making web content more accessible. 

Myth 5: Once accessible, always accessible

Some believe that once their website or digital content is accessible, no further work is needed. However, maintaining accessibility is an ongoing process. As new content is added and digital platforms are updated, continuous checks and updates are necessary to ensure ongoing compliance with accessibility standards. Regular audits and updates should be part of your digital strategy to maintain an inclusive digital presence. 

By dispelling these misconceptions, businesses can gain a clearer understanding of the significance and viability of integrating digital accessibility into their strategies. Rather than being a hindrance, accessibility is a potent instrument that bolsters brand reputation, unlocks fresh markets, and guarantees a superior user experience for all visitors, thereby boosting customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Practical tips and tricks for ensuring digital accessibility

So, how can you ensure your content is accessible for everyone? 

  • Regular audits: Use tools like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) checklist to audit your digital content regularly. Tools like WAVE or Google’s Lighthouse can help identify areas where your website might not meet accessibility standards. 
  • Engaging content formats: Ensure all multimedia content, such as videos, includes captions and audio descriptions. Provide alternatives like high-contrast mode or text-to-speech options for text content to cater to various user needs. 
  • Inclusive social media strategies: When posting on social media, use accessible hashtags (capitalize each word, e.g., #DigitalAccessibility). Always include alt text for images, ensure your links are descriptive, and provide context. 
  • Training and awareness: Regular training sessions for your team on the importance of digital accessibility and how to achieve it are crucial. The more your team knows, the better they can implement effective strategies. 

Celebrating the success stories

Embracing content and web accessibility not only meets compliance requirements but can also dramatically enhance user engagement and expand market reach. Here are three examples of brands and organizations that have reaped significant benefits by prioritizing digital accessibility in their web content and online platforms: 

1. BBC: Setting the standard in media accessibility

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has long been a leader in digital accessibility, ensuring its vast range of content is accessible to all audiences. The BBC’s accessibility standards are applied rigorously across its websites, apps, and all digital content. Features like subtitles, sign language, and audio descriptions are standard for BBC programs. This commitment has not only enhanced its reputation as an inclusive broadcaster but has also increased its viewership and user satisfaction, setting a high standard for accessible media worldwide. 

2. Airbnb: Inclusive design in action

Airbnb revolutionized its platform by integrating accessibility features into both its website and mobile app. Recognizing the diverse needs of its users, Airbnb offers detailed accessibility filters that allow users to select accommodations that meet specific requirements, such as step-free access and entryways wide enough for wheelchairs. This commitment to accessibility has not only opened their service to a broader audience but has also significantly enhanced user experience and inclusivity. As a result, Airbnb has seen a positive impact on its brand perception and increased bookings from travelers with disabilities. 

3. Adobe: Pioneering accessibility in software

Adobe is renowned for its commitment to making digital content creation tools accessible. The company has incorporated accessibility features into its software suites, such as Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat, which are widely used for creating and viewing PDFs. Features like screen reader support, high contrast viewing modes, and simple keyboard navigation ensure that users with disabilities can use their products effectively. Adobe’s focus on accessibility has solidified its leadership position in the software industry and expanded its user base, fostering loyalty among consumers. 

4. Walmart: Enhancing accessibility in retail

Walmart has made notable strides in digital accessibility, particularly with its e-commerce platform. Recognizing the diverse needs of its massive customer base, Walmart is committed to ensuring that its website and mobile app are accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. This includes features like screen reader compatibility, keyboard navigation, and alternative text for images to ensure that shopping online is convenient for everyone. These improvements comply with ADA standards and improve the shopping experience for a significant portion of the population. As a result, Walmart has seen increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, demonstrating the business benefits of inclusive design in retail. 

5. Google: Leading by example in tech

Google has consistently been at the forefront of digital accessibility, integrating features across its products to serve users with various disabilities. From its search engine to its suite of productivity tools like Google Docs and Google Drive, accessibility features such as voice commands, screen readers, and braille support are standard. Google’s approach to accessibility is comprehensive, extending into the Android operating system, which offers a range of features like TalkBack and Lookout designed to make mobile devices more accessible. By prioritizing accessibility, Google adheres to compliance requirements and enhances the usability of its products for everyone. This inclusivity strengthens user dependence on Google’s products and services, reinforcing its dominant position in the tech industry while expanding its user base. 

These are just a few examples that show that enhancing content and web accessibility leads to positive outcomes beyond compliance. By improving the accessibility of their digital content, these brands have broadened their user base and enhanced user engagement and loyalty. This strategic focus on accessibility demonstrates that inclusive design is not just ethically right but also commercially advantageous, as it can lead to increased brand perception, user satisfaction, and bookings. 

Boosting the bottom line through inclusivity

Ultimately, the goal of any business strategy, including PR, is to impact the bottom line positively. Digital accessibility does this by opening new markets, enhancing customer loyalty through improved user experiences, and safeguarding against potential legal actions. Being proactive about digital accessibility is not just beneficial; it’s essential. 

Incorporating digital accessibility into your PR strategy ensures that every campaign you run, every piece of content you produce, and every interaction you have with your audience is inclusive. This approach doesn’t just meet a legal requirement—it builds a foundation for long-term business success by aligning your brand with the values of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. 

Matisse Hamel-Nelis
Matisse Hamel-Nelis, ADS, CPACC, is a seasoned public relations strategist known for her innovative approach to digital communications and accessibility. She is the driving force behind Matisse Nelis Consulting, where she helps businesses enhance their brand visibility and engagement through cutting-edge PR tactics and inclusive digital practices.

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