How Accessibility Can Make (or Break) Your Small-Business Website If you've yet to have familiarize yourself with web accessibility, now's the time to make it a priority.

By Aimee Tariq

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Web accessibility may not be the first thing you think of when designing a website for your small business, but in the long run, few things could prove more important. Just like how a brick-and-mortar store must comply with ADA guidelines to ensure that all individuals can access their facilities regardless of whether they have a disability, business owners, as well as web design and digital agencies, must also ensure that those with disabilities have equal access to web content. Failure to make web accessibility a priority when designing your website could have significant long-term consequences.

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility refers to the idea that all websites and digital tools should be designed in a way that they can be easily used by individuals with disabilities. To fully access the internet, many of these individuals need the assistance of a device such as a screen reader.

The number of people who need assistance in accessing the internet is much greater than most suspect. A report from the World Health Organization estimates that 39 million people worldwide are blind, but this is far from the only disability that could limit one's ability to use the internet. According to the United States Census Bureau, almost one in five Americans has a disability, with half of those individuals reporting their disability as "severe." This includes issues such as cognitive disabilities, difficulty hearing and motor impairments. Each of these disabilities can make it harder for someone to use the internet, and in some cases, render some content completely inaccessible without additional assistance. For example, video content that does not provide closed captioning or a transcript would not provide equal value for someone who is deaf.

Related: 5 Steps to Make Sure Your Website Is ADA-Compliant

The pitfalls of not designing an accessible website.

When a website fails to meet accessibility standards, it prevents individuals with disabilities from fully engaging with it. For many, this can mean the difference between making a purchase on your website versus going to a competitor. The organization eSSENTIAL Accessibility notes that individuals with disabilities comprise approximately 10 percent of all online spending. While 71 percent of these potential customers will abandon a site that's difficult to use, 90 percent of them won't take the time to submit a complaint. They will simply go to another site that better suits their needs. This means you could be losing money and not even know it.

However, recent headlines have proven that when those with disabilities are willing to take a stand, it can prove even more problematic for the company in question. In a blog post, Gal Vizel, CMO of web-accessibility automation platform accessiBe notes that celebrity-owned websites are increasingly being subjected to lawsuits for failing to provide equal access to those with visual impairments.

But big-name brands aren't the only ones at risk of such legal action. As Vizel explains, "The lawsuits related to ADA web accessibility has increased by 183 percent in just one year, from 814 cases in 2017 to 2285 in 2018. Domino's Pizza learned this the hard way when it lost in court to a blind plaintiff who had difficulty ordering pizza because the website wasn't compatible with standard screen reading software. The disabled community has spoken -- and we are listening."

Ensuring that you meet web-accessibility standards.

Negative public relations, lost customers and lawsuits are already bad news for a big-name brand. For a small business, this could prove devastating. As such, all small-business owners should work with a web-design team or digital agency to ensure that their site meets key accessibility standards and are ADA-compliant.

For example, to improve accessibility for those with visual impairments, you should ensure that all content is compatible with a screen reader, which converts the content to audio to streamline navigation, and photos should have text-only alternatives to ensure screen reader compatibility. Those with color blindness or low vision may have trouble navigating a website that doesn't use adequate color contrast, making it hard to distinguish text and links. Your design should account for these common issues as well.

Related: 5 Things You Need to Know About Web Accessibility

Visual impairments are far from the only web accessibility issue that you should prioritize. Hand-mobility issues may require the assistance of tools such as keyboard-only navigation. Those who are hard of hearing should be provided with captioning or transcripts for video or audio material. To best serve your audience, you should ensure that your website is compliant with the standards found in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the Web Accessibility Initiative.

Ensuring that your website is accessible can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. Despite this, there is no denying that Domino's would likely have spent far less money to update its digital content to be accessible than they are now spending attempting to fight litigation in court, not to mention the lost business from the disabled community stemming from the negative press attention.

Web accessibility is an increasingly hot-button issue. By making your site accessible to all potential users, you won't only avoid lawsuits, you will enable your brand to reach a wider customer base. Prioritizing web accessibility during the design phase of your website will help your business be better equipped for lasting growth.

Aimee Tariq

Founder and CEO of A Life With Health

Aimee Tariq is most passionate about empowering professionals to live their best lives by removing toxic triggers and maximizing energy, focus and productivity. At the age of 23 she became a no. 1 bestselling author for health optimization.

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