Why It Matters

Why Digital Accessibility Matters

Digital accessibility matters because it makes websites, apps, and electronic documents easier to use for everyone, not just people with disabilities.

Who is affected by digital accessibility?

15.3% of people in the United States have an impairment that affects their ability to use digital products. Don’t just think of visually impaired people when you think about accessibility. People with difficulty grasping objects may not be able to use a mouse or a touchscreen. And people with cognitive difficulties like attention deficit disorder or dyslexia may struggle to understand content on a visually busy website.

The worldwide percentage is similar, 15%, or over 1 billion people with disabilities.

There’s a self-interested reason to care about accessibility too. Bruce Tognazzini (a former Apple designer, now at Nielsen Norman Group) writes, “We all will have disabilities eventually, unless we die first.” That’s a morbid way to put it, but he’s absolutely correct. The aging population is increasingly using the internet, so we need to accommodate them.

Finally, beyond permanent disabilities, there are temporary and situational disabilities as well.

Why should we care about accessibility?

It’s the right thing to do!

OK. Maybe that’s not compelling enough.

Accessibility reduces legal risk.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been interpreted to apply to websites, not just physical buildings. There have been hundreds of website-related cases brought under the ADA, including 47 in 2015 alone.

Taking a broader view than just the ADA — according to research from law firm Seyfarth Shaw, last year there were over 800 digital accessibility related lawsuits in Federal court.

The costs of an accessibility lawsuit can be high. In 2008, Target settled with the National Federation of the Blind for $6 million in damages plus $4 million in legal fees. And on April 6 of 2018, Morgan Stanley was sued and the plaintiff is asking for $9 million.

Accessibility supports low-bandwidth users.

We sit here in our high-bandwidth environment, but worldwide over 85% of people lack fast broadband.

And 75% of online shoppers who experience a slow site or one with a complex checkout process, will no longer buy from that site.

The good news is that the same updates that make a site more accessible for users with disabilities also help people on low-bandwidth connections.

Accessibility helps with Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

David Berman, an accessibility expert, writes, “The most frequent visitor to your website is blind, deaf, and has the cognitive abilities of a 4-year-old.” He’s referring to the Google spider that indexes websites. Google’s spider can’t see, it can’t hear, and it’s not very smart.

Fortunately, Google’s SEO guidelines closely match web accessibility guidelines. For example: you should put an HTML <title> element that is short and unique on every webpage. This will help your SEO, and will also help people using screen readers or other assistive technologies.

Accessibility is a quality of work issue.

You’ve seen the phrase, “What is worth doing is worth doing well.” That applies to websites and mobile apps just as much as it does to paint.

Accessibility is usability. If 15% of people cannot use something because you didn’t take accessibility into account, then you’re not doing it well.


  • “ADA Title III lawsuits increase by 16% in 2017 largely due to website access lawsuits.” (2018, February 1). Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Retrieved from https://www.adatitleiii.com/2018/02/ada-title-iii-lawsuits-increase-by-14-percent-in-2017-due-largely-to-website-access-lawsuits-physical-accessibility-legislative-reform-efforts-continue/
  • Brault, Matthew. “Americans with disabilities: 2010. (Report number P70-131)” (2012, July) United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2012/demo/p70-131.html
  • Groves, Karl. “List of web accessibility-related litigation and settlements.” (2017). Karl Groves’s blog. Retrieved from http://www.karlgroves.com/2011/11/15/list-of-web-accessibility-related-litigation-and-settlements/
  • “Measuring the Information Society Report 2017.” (2017). International Telecommunications Union. Retrieved from https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/publications/mis2017.aspx
  • “Retail website performance.” (2006, June 1). Jupiter Research. Retrieved from https://www.akamai.com/us/en/multimedia/documents/report/akamai-site-abandonment-final-report.pdf
  • Tognazzini, Bruce. “Inclusive Design, part 1, with some shocking revelations about your future.” (2009, April). Ask Tog on Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved from http://www.asktog.com/columns/077InclusiveDesignPart1.html
  • “World report on disability.” (2011). World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report/en/