What does your boss think about digital accessibility?

As a digital professional you know that digital accessibility benefits staff, customers, profit margins and drives brand value – and it’s the right thing to do. 

But there are always competing priorities and it's not always easy to convince senior leaders to make the investment you need. 

Digital accessibility is perceived as a never-ending task

Shows someone in a suit with briefcase beneath a large lightbulb in a spotlight. Illustrative style.Our survey of digital leaders revealed that 22% of C-Suite executives perceive digital accessibility as a "never-ending task," when asked about barriers to digital accessibility. 

It's true, digital is an ever-changing beast and as such, it takes hard work to maintain digital accessibility, but we'd argue that means you have plenty of opportunities to make improvements - and get things right. In other words, Digital accessibility is a cycle of continuous improvement and part of a “pivot from project to product,” as Newcastle Building Society's Chief Information Officer, Manila McLean, said at TechShare Pro 2021.

McLean added: “These are not projects to build, and then they are done. The customer’s device changes, how they consume media changes and influences how we do what they consume financial services. “So if we are standing up digital products, those will never be done. There will always be opportunities for improvement and continual revolution.”

Gerard McGovern, CIO, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, agrees. “A saying I like is that if you are not embarrassed by the first version of a product you put out, you’ve probably spent too long making it,” he said. “You get out the door, get feedback, learn from that, improve the product. And that is what is exciting.” 

Accessibility begins with an Inclusive design

It’s vital to build accessibly, said Ritam Gandhi, Founder of Studio Graphene. “For a lot of people, it [accessibility] is an afterthought. Success is accessibility by design.”

McGovern agrees: “Years ago, security by design wasn’t that popular, but I can guarantee now no one is designing products without security.

He added: “When you do discover there are problems, and you will, it costs significantly more time and resource to fix them, and your reputation invariably is damaged if it is a security issue. The same is true with accessibility.”

What are the drivers for digital accessibility?

However, the main driver for digital accessibility is still more stick than carrot, says our survey. Of the respondents, 71% cited the need to comply with regulations as “Very” or “Extremely” Important while customer-led factors rated lower:

  • Hearing from customers who are unable to access services (60%)
  • Creating more accessible products for customers (59%)
  • Encouraging customers to engage with companies as an ethical brand (50%).

Yet, for our panellists, a focus on customers is paramount. “The customer is at the heart of what we do. And the diversity around our customer base means we will have customers who at times, or permanently, have accessibility needs,” said McLean.

She added: “If you look at some of the other big topics, like diversity and inclusion and equity and sustainability, it’s on par with those topics, and everybody needs to show we are working and taking positive to be as inclusive as possible.”

Measuring the return on digital accessibility

Measuring the impact of digital accessibility is the top challenge facing the C-Suite. “It’s very hard to measure the impact,” said Ritam Gandhi, Founder of Studio Graphene, speaking at TechShare Pro.

McGovern says there has, however, been a shift from how content looks to a focus on the content. “Who remembers the welcome pages you had to click through with lots of flashing text because someone discovered you could easily do that in HTML? We’ve been on a journey where accessibility for everyone is more important.”

Measuring impact, he says, is about listening to customer feedback.

“It’s very easy to find out when you’ve done it wrong because people will let you know. So, if you are not hearing that, that is sometimes no news is good news.”

Download the FREE White Paper: Change Agents: How can C-Suite and IT leaders build a culture of digital accessibility? https://www.abilitynet.org.uk/how-accelerate-your-digital-accessibility-...

About the survey

On AbilityNet’s behalf, The Dennis Insights team reached out to 78 UK based C-suite executives in July 2021. Questions took the form of an online survey, which, on average, took less than 10 minutes to complete.

Some 76% of respondents were DA decision-makers.

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