Accessibility: Making the Business Case for Tech Providers

Developing and providing information and communications technology (ICT) products that are accessible is a matter of smart business. Accessibility improves usability for all users, which means increased potential market share, customer satisfaction, and repeat business. What's more, it helps demonstrate industry leadership. It is also key to doing business with federal and state government entities, as certain laws and regulations require that the ICT products they purchase be accessible.

Business cases—that is, written documents or presentations outlining the reasoning for initiating a new project or initiative—come in many shapes and sizes, and your organization may have its own preferred format. In fact, a smart approach is to customize a business case to align with your company's overarching goals and objects. Furthermore, it should be considered a living document and be assessed and updated on a regular basis to reflect changes in your organization's systems and processes.

If you've never developed a business case, your company may have internal resources that can help. For example, some companies host business case development workshops or offer intranet resources. The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative also offers helpful tips for designing a customized business plan for web accessibility, many of which can be applied to other technology products.

Some of the factors in your business case may need to be quantified. Others may only require a sound argument and examples. The most frequently cited factors in building an effective business case for developing and providing accessible technology products include:

  • Accessible technology improves productivity. Productivity matters to your customers, especially those representing employers. And ensuring the accessibility and usability of workplace technology helps employees with disabilities optimize their performance. Accessibility and usability features frequently enable productivity gains for those without disabilities, too.

  • You can profit by building and marketing universally designed products. Companies that manufacture technology products are increasingly realizing the benefits of designing for all types of users. It simply makes good business sense to create products that can be used right out of the box—in other words, universally designed.

  • It's less expensive to build it right the first time. Building accessibility into the early stages of your product development lifecycle is a smart strategy, because retroactive accessibility fixes are costly and inefficient. Accessibility should be the norm, not the exception, and it should be built in from the start, not addressed as an afterthought.

  • Accessible products can be more cost effective and strategically valuable than AT-compatible products. While some companies tend to focus solely on assistive technology (AT) compatibility, there are major advantages to building mainstream technologies that work well for everyone, again, right from the start. And such solutions are usually less expensive and easier to test and manage. What's more, building in your own accessibility features lets you retain control over your products, rather than relying on the features of "bolt-on" AT solutions from other providers.

  • More and more customers are paying attention to accessibility. Both increased awareness and legal requirements have caused more and more employers—who are more than likely your customers—to commit to fostering workplaces welcoming of all skilled and qualified employees. This means ensuring that not only literal doors are accessible to job applicants and employees with disabilities, but also virtual ones. If you are confident that your products are accessible, your customers inherit that confidence when they buy your products. Removing barriers unlocks new sales opportunities and builds customer loyalty.

  • Providing accessible ICT helps mitigate legal risk. Offering accessible workplace technology can help your company comply with accessibility-related laws and regulations and can prevent fines and risks associated with lawsuits and the negative public relations they bring.

  • Accessibility knowledge can improve customer relations. Many customers do not have accessibility experts on staff and may be concerned about meeting their own accessibility responsibilities. If you can provide accessible products and a broad knowledge of accessibility and practical recommendations, you are in a position to provide added value.

  • Accessibility leads to innovation. Making accessibility a foundational premise of innovation, so that every emerging technology hits the shelves accessible and useable, will ultimately help your company reach the largest number of users possible. And, looking ahead, developers with accessibility expertise have the potential to create the next great technologies—products and applications that will transform how all people, including those with disabilities, work and live.

Of course, as employers themselves, technology providers should understand the strong business case for ensuring the products used within their own organizations are accessible to all employees and potential employees. And in fact, doing so is a smart recruitment strategy. It widens the potential pool of talent to include people with disabilities, who in turn can offer valuable perspective, on not just accessibility but all aspects of a company's operations.