For most internet users, website accessibility is expected. For example, if someone goes to Target’s website, they will expect to be able to see products, compare prices, and order online.

For people living with disabilities, this expectation is completely washed away. According to the World Health Organization, around 15 percent of the world’s population is made up of people with cognitive and/or physical disabilities. Depending on the extent or severity of a disability, website or internet access in today’s world might be completely out of the question.

But it doesn’t have to be. 

Websites today can be designed with all people in mind using a practice called Universal Design. By designing a website or interface with everyone, including those with disabilities, in mind, brands can fully capitalize on their potential market.

Many websites, even from top brands around the world, still aren’t designed and coded so that people with disabilities, ranging from visual to auditory to cognitive, can use them. Why is this a big deal? First, big brands often set the standard for many smaller brands. Building a website with universal design in mind might be viewed as a cost barrier unless the standard has been set.

For many brands, their website is a home base for their customers. They’ve invested countless hours and money into creating the final product. Going back and redesigning their website for universal accessibility is seen by many as an unnecessary cost for a website that is already functioning for their core audience. However, the cost is anything but unnecessary.

The Americans with Disabilities Act. 

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, Congress was hardly considering the internet as a vehicle for so much change. The internet was still relatively new, and there was no way to predict just how pervasive and essential it would be in the world today.

It’s nearly impossible to do anything today that the internet does not influence in some capacity, and that’s where the ADA comes into play. Because the internet plays such a pivotal role in the day-to-day lives of people all over the world, it must also be a space easily accessed and used by people with disabilities.

According to the Pew Research Center, Americans with disabilities are nearly three times as likely to never go online and around 20 percent less likely to have regular internet access through a computer, smartphone or tablet. This isn’t on accident. Because of the restrictive nature of the internet today, many people with disabilities simply don’t see a point.

Redesign your website for accessibility.

The bottom line is that the ADA covers the digital landscape as well through using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines are part of a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, the main international standards organization for the Internet.

Sooner or later, every brand will need to go back and redesign their sites for accessibility using WCAG guidelines. The guidelines set the bar for all websites and following them is essential for success in digital accessibility for all. While universal design used to be an ‘extra’, it’s now a must-have for anything and everything in the digital space.

By building a website with universal design in mind, brands can avoid this type of scenario, and best of all, they can reach the maximum number of potential consumers.

Christy Gormal is president of Matchbook, a full-service marketing agency focused on providing expertise to partners working to create impactful change.

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