Only 2% of Sites Meet Accessibility Standards. Let’s Change That.

Long sentences and the use of jargon are just a few of the major barriers for consumers with disabilities

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Today’s websites fail to meet accessibility standards. In fact, only 2% of all websites meet best practice guidelines. That means people with disabilities are struggling to access information and services online.

This affects millions of people. Simply put, we must work harder to build a future of inclusion for everyone.

Every company must build accessibility into its digital strategy, but unfortunately, for many it is not a priority. If anything, digital accessibility is often an afterthought.

We can change that.

Common issues

Digital accessibility is becoming more important as organizations expect consumers to do more online than ever before. The pandemic led to many businesses going digital by default and online accessibility barriers did not go unnoticed.

While great strides have been made over the past decade to improve physical accessibility, digital or online accessibility still lags. A recent audit of the top U.S. banks’ websites showed that none of the banks were fully compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), regarded as the international standard for web accessibility.

The audit found that many of the sites examined had hundreds of technical accessibility errors in addition to readability problems. Often, online content is hard to understand, particularly for those with cognitive difficulties and low literacy.

The most common issues were the use of jargon, long sentences and complicated language that required an above-average reading level. Usually, these types of errors can be fixed quickly, making a real difference for the reader.

Many industries, including marketing, advertising and sales, use jargon words. Jargon words are a type of shorthand between members of a particular group of people. It is important to use plain language that is clear and direct. It builds trust, it’s accessible and it’s better for everyone because it’s easier for everyone to understand.

The business world tends to use more sophisticated language. This is supposed to “elevate” our messaging, but really it just creates barriers. When it comes to the reading level of your materials, you must consider all people.

The average reading age in the U.S. is between 12 and 14 years old. The average website visitor is unlikely to fully understand information if it is written in complex language. In the audit, banks had an average reading age of 19 years old (or at college level). This creates major barriers for most of the population.

The use of long sentences—those over 21 words—is another common issue. Long sentences can be confusing and difficult to digest for many readers, especially those with language or comprehension barriers.

All websites should simplify their content by removing jargon words, lowering the reading level and keeping sentences short. By improving readability, your content will be more simple, short and clear, and that benefits everyone.

Too often an afterthought

There are two ways to address digital accessibility: by technology and by human involvement. By combining both, we have the power to make big changes more efficiently.

Getting started doesn’t need to be hard—accessibility just needs to become a priority for the organization. For this to happen, everyone in your organization should be aware of the importance of accessibility and inclusion. Creating a cross-departmental accessibility team can help.

The team should be made up of people from all areas of your company and from different backgrounds. From content, design, sales and development—these people will become the experts, working with their wider teams to make everything more accessible.

The right team should monitor technical accessibility and carry out fixes on a regular basis. They should also make sure that all of the content the company produces is readable and accessible. Developing a strong and diverse team will ensure that accessibility is always considered as new projects are planned.

Your accessibility experts should also understand where technology can play a role. Tech tools can help automate benchmarking, measuring and monitoring digital accessibility.

It is important to understand where your problems lie. For example, accessibility tools can be used to identify errors at scale. This allows your team to spend time on what matters most—fixing accessibility and improving readability.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Identify your biggest issues and address them first. Then create a longer-term plan. Digital accessibility is an ongoing process that should be built into the heart of your business strategy. All levels of the organization should embrace digital accessibility.

Whether you’re planning your next ad campaign, website design or digital product launch, think of your audience. Think about how they interact with your digital content.

Question whether it can be accessed and used by all groups of people. Everyone deserves access to information and services online—let’s make that happen.