How to Sell Accessibility to Your Clients

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Unless you’ve been living under a log, you’ll know that accessibility is an important aspect of web design and that WordPress has a focus on the subject, with recent releases enhancing the accessibility of the platform and its user interface.

But you and I are enlightened types, aren’t we? The kind of people who like to learn about what’s happening in web design and development by reading this blog.

Unfortunately there are plenty of people out there who don’t see things the same way, and just don’t “get” accessibility and the need to ensure our websites can be easily accessed by people with disabilities.

Most of the time my clients are very keen to incorporate accessibility into a website build and even if they don’t prioritize it at first, are easily swayed when I tell them about the benefits. But there are those who refuse to incorporate accessibility features into their site often because they’re still working with outdated notions of what websites should look like and how people interact with them. But occasionally, and sadly, because they just don’t care.

If you’ve come across clients who aren’t interested in a accessibility, I strongly encourage you to try and talk them round because if web professionals don’t advocate accessibility at all opportunities then we can’t expect the web to become more accessible. But you may need to persuade those clients and talk them into it.

So here are my five arguments you can use when selling accessibility to your WordPress clients.

1. It’s the Right Thing To Do

Here’s the reason why lots of us do accessibility: it’s just the right thing to do. I’ll admit that a stubborn client may not respond to this argument, but it’s worth making it just to remind them. Sometimes a client won’t even have considered accessibility but if you just give them a nudge, they might take your advice.

Client not convinced yet? No problem? I have more arguments up my sleeve….

2. It’s Good PR

If you’ve been building websites for a while, you might remember a time when people liked to put accessibility icons on their site to prove their site was accessible. I remember working on a site in the late 1990s that was very proud of its Bobby-certified status.

This is less common now as the assumption is that all sites should be accessible – claiming that yours is doesn’t make you special, in the same way as making your site responsive is no longer any great shakes.

But clients don’t keep up with development in web design, and many of them still want to show off the fact that their site is accessible.

My response to this would be not to argue against it. If the potential PR benefits of having an accessible site is something that’s important to the client, then by all means encourage it. If it’s the only thing that’ll persuade them to make their site accessible, then by all means slap an accessibility notice in the footer, or even the header. Just make sure that if the site claims to be accessible, it really is – follow our accessibility tips here.

3. It Opens You Up to an Even Bigger Audience

Accessibility isn’t a niche concern that affects a small handful of people. It’s also not just about catering for people with severe disabilities or impairments.

According to government statistics for the United Kingdom (where I live), 11.6 million people had at least one disability in 2011/12, and the figure grows every year. That’s 18% of the 63.7 million UK residents at the same time. Of those people, 2.2 million (3.5% of the population) had communication-related disabilities and 2.5 million (4%) had disabilities relating to memory, concentration and/or learning.

That only counts people who have registered as disabled. According to the RNIB charity for people with visual impairments, almost 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss of which only 360,000 are registered as blind (that’s just 18% registered). That means there could be many millions of people living with disabilities who aren’t included in the government statistics.

On top of this, there’s the fact that other impairments that aren’t classed as disabilities can affect people’s ability to access your (or your client’s) site. As someone who’s shortsighted, I’m regularly frustrated by websites with tiny text, but I’m certainly not disabled. It’s estimated that 60% of people in the developed world wear glasses (and 60% of people in the developing world are likely to need them) to correct their vision – that’s most of the population who can’t read your site if you make the text illegible!

If your client doesn’t incorporate accessibility into their site, that means that they’ll be potentially losing as much as 20% of the audience and making the site harder to read for 60%. That could have a big impact on their customer base.

4. It’s Essential for Complying with Web Standards (Which Enhances Performance)

Hopefully your client has listened to your argument when you tell them that their site needs to be standards-compliant. This means that it needs to use code that meets the W3C’s web standards and also, as you’re developing with WordPress, it should meet the WordPress coding stands, too.

Sites that are standards-compliant will run faster, work as they should on the largest number of devices and operating systems, and be less likely to crash when WordPress is updated. They’ll also get better search engine rankings.

But without being accessible, a site isn’t standards-compliant. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which defines the standards, makes this very clear. Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web and is a Director of the W3C and said this:

“The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Making your site accessible will ensure it’s marked up semantically, using the correct structure and incorporating text elements in place of media. These are all fundamental to both accessibility and standards-compliance.

5. It’s Good for SEO

This is the argument that tends to carry most weight with my clients, because even if they don’t understand accessibility, they’ll know that they need their SEO to be as good as possible so that people can find their site.

A large part (but by no means all) of accessibility relates to ensuring that your code can be read by screen readers, which people with visual impairments use to access the web. In case you’ve never come across a screen reader or heard one in action (they read very fast), here’s what they do. According to the W3C page on accessibility, a screen reader:

“…reads aloud the information on a page, including the alt text for the visual image.”

It’s as simple as that. A screen reader will work through the markup output by your WordPress installation with its them and plugins, and read the contents in the order it’s output in the code. Obviously an image can’t be read aloud so you give it alt text, which describes what’s in the image.

Google’s Googlebots work in a very similar way. They crawl the code in your pages (it makes me shudder to picture them crawling through my site like something from Minority Report) and read what’s there. Again, they can’t “read” images, so they read the alt text, too.

Here’s how Google describes the process of indexing a page:

“Googlebot processes each of the pages it crawls in order to compile a massive index of all the words it sees and their location on each page. In addition, we process information included in key content tags and attributes, such as Title tags and ALT attributes.”

This is very similar to what a screen reader does. It works through the output HTML, in order, plus any alt text.

So a site that’s easy for a screen reader to process will also be easy for a search engine to index. If that doesn’t convince your clients, I don’t know what will.

Is your website accessible? Have you had problems convincing clients that their site should be accessible? Let us know what you think about accessibility in the comments below.

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