The cost of accessibility

Accessibility symbols
January 22, 2020 3:26 pm

The cost of accessibility

Accessibility is rightly gaining attention within UX at the moment, however changes are being implemented at a disappointingly slow pace. Designers and developers have an ever growing amount of information at their disposal which they can use to make their sites more accessible. So, rather than add to that ever growing knowledge bank, we are going to explore the implications for companies that do not meet the standards for those with access needs. We ask, what is the true cost of ignoring accessibility guidelines?    

“When UX doesn’t consider ALL users, shouldn’t it be known as “SOME User Experience” or… SUX?”

Billy Gregory, Senior Accessibility Engineer

Social responsibility

When you fail to comply to accessibility guidelines, you are discriminating against certain users and therefore isolating them from your product and/or service. From a UX perspective we can take for example the popular image based dating app Tinder. Users view profile pictures and instantly decide whether or not they want to connect with them with a quick swipe left or right. People with severe visual impairments or are completely blind cannot use Tinder at all, as there is no alternative text for those who cannot view images in detail.  Dating site eharmony claim ‘our report shows that 38% of us will be meeting the love of our lives via online dating…by the year 2040 70% of relationships will be able to attribute their coming-together to either online dating or online communication’. However, those who are visually impaired cannot benefit from connecting with millions of people with a swipe of the finger. With those who suffer from sight loss experiencing loneliness and isolation at high levels, apps such as Tinder could play a part in helping reduce this if they were to comply with accessibility guidelines. All companies have a corporate social responsibility to ensure their business has a positive impact on the social, economic, and environmental landscape. Accessibility is a huge aspect of this, something that needs to be a priority not an afterthought.

“If you don’t include usability testing with people who use assistive technologies, you will never know whether you have created a site that goes beyond accessibility to create delight for people with disabilities.”

In Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery’s 2013 book  ‘A web for everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences.’

Being active on social media is almost an integral part of modern life in the 21st century. It is how many people stay connected with their friends, family, colleagues, celebrities, politicians, influencers and strangers across the world. Is it right that certain groups of people are not able to participate in the online world? Social media giant Instagram demonstrates how to be more inclusive for those with visual impairments. In 2018 Instagram finally added alternative text so that screen reading software can automatically describe pictures to it’s users. The change meant that users could now add the descriptions themselves in the advance settings, or alternatively (and more importantly) Instagram can now use its own object recognition algorithms to automatically generate alternative text. The change came in 2018, however many complained that it’s sister company Facebook had the feature from 2016, and questioned why it took Instagram so long. Instagram still has more work to do. Critiques have asked that Instagram extend the feature to ‘Stories’ – where 40% of its one billion users post to every day. The need to meet accessibility guidelines is more urgent now than ever before. The impact on the communities of people who are excluded is vast, complex and damaging. So whilst Instagram has taken steps to be more inclusive, there is still more to be done.   

Four screenshots showing the step by step process of adding alt text on Instagram. Source:

Accessibility: a costly dream?

Despite the increased attention and recognition that accessibility is receiving in the UX world,  it is still often seen as an afterthought in UX research and design. It is no secret that making a website or app more accessible involves more work, time and money. This article has focused mainly on the moral obligation to make your website or app more accessible. However, we know that money talks, with companies managing budgets and pushing for profits. Businesses know they need to  make their services more accessible but are reluctant to invest in accessibility. Does the cost of ignoring accessibility guidelines outweigh the investment in it?

In the UK 13.9 million people are registered disabled, globally the figure is estimated to be around one billion.  Moreover, statistics show that 15% of people have a disability that could affect how they browse the web.  In the UK, we have an aging population with life expectancy continuing to rise. There are currently over 20 million people who are over the age of 55 and almost 50% of the UK are over 40. These people do not necessarily have disabilities, but simply an aging body, that can impact their experiences online. Companies are at major risk of alienating large sections of society if they do not meet accessibility guidelines. There are small changes to things such as the typography that will go a long way in improving your website for those who are visually impaired, registered blind, and the older population who may struggle with small print and poor contrast.

Spending resources on making your services accessible should not be seen as an expensive investment with no return. Instead the debate needs to reframed. By investing in accessibility research and design, you are opening up to a huge market of people, that are in danger of being left behind on many services and platforms.  

In 2018 new regulations were introduced for public sector websites in the UK that stated all existing websites and apps will have to comply with accessibility standards by next year (2021). This builds upon the 2010 Equality act that states that you have a legal requirement to make your service accessible to everyone.  Moreover, accessibility on commercial sites in the UK is covered by the Equality Act (2010), which requires site owners to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for users with disabilities. Whilst these acts are yet to be tested in law in the UK, suing websites over accessibility  has become somewhat of a cottage industry in the US.  A mid-year report out in 2018 showed that more than 5,000 lawsuits in six months alone were filed alleging business were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and most of these cases were in relation to companies websites. In 2008 American retail giant Target paid $6 million to settle a lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind over accessibility on their website. Furthermore, major companies such as Domino’s Pizza, Fox News, Burger King, Nike and Netflix amongst others, have all been sued under the ADA over accessibility on their websites. The UK has yet to follow suit with legal claims in this area, however as the old saying goes ‘when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold.’

What is evident is that whilst it may cost a little more to invest initially in making your website and apps accessible, not only will you be opening up to a new market, but you could save millions in legal claims down the line, and the possibility of rebuilding your brand a little in the process. Why not get ahead in a world where your competition is equally as far behind?

Quote: “If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.’” Dr. Ralf Speth, Chief Executive Officer, Jaguar Land Rover. Source:


Awareness of accessibility is high in UX at present, however awareness does not always translate into practice. It is imperative that businesses are designing with accessibility in mind from the outset. Businesses understand the importance of usability testing throughout, but what is user experience testing when it does not include all users? Investing in accessibility will undoubtably make you more profitable as you set to make your service available to millions who previously could not use it. Not only this, but it could potentially save you thousands, even millions in future legal claims. So if not now, when?