Design with Accessibility in Mind

I’m often asked to create the business case for building accessibility in to your web process. Most organizations are very responsive when I explain the benefits of universal design, the crossover between accessibility and usability, as well as accessibility and mobile design. By the time I explain the search engine optimization benefits, they are often salivating and ready to commit to accessibility. But, what happens when I’m working with a company that is inaccessible but already has decent SEO? I remind them that the litigation risks are real and the cost of retrofitting for accessibility is significantly higher than designing with accessibility in mind from the beginning. The thoughts I want etched into their minds are:

  1. Not Creating an Accessibile Web Site Today is Like Consciously Deciding to Not Pay Your Taxes – the penalties when you get caught (and you will get caught) will be far greater than the cost of building accessibility into your design in the first place. Penalties include:
    • Legal fees
    • Legal fines and/or settlement payments
    • Employee time spent responding to lawsuit information requests
    • Cost of retrofitting accessibility into your site
    • Brand damage
  2. Design with Accessibility in Mind – it is a fact that building accessibility in at the beginning of the design process is far more cost effective than retrofitting for accessibility. Accessibility experts estimate that the cost of developing sites that meet WCAG 2.0 AA increases development costs by the following:
    • 1% to 3% on simple sites built with html and css (and little to no javascript)
    • 3% to 6% on intermediate sites built with html, css and an intermediate level of javascript
    • 6% to 10% on heavy javascript sites or flash sites

    Compare these costs to the retrofitting costs which consistently come in as 2 to 3 times more. So, for a simple site, retrofitting will cost (1% to 3%) * 2 {if you are lucky} or (1% to 3%) * 3. Pay a little now, or pay a lot later.

  3. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed on July 26, 1990 – more than 20 years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became the first-ever civil rights law for people with disabilities. It is wrong to deny equal access to the web (a place of public accommodation). When you consciously choose to have an inaccessible web presence, you are guilty of discrimination.

Year ago people stood up for my right to vote as a woman. Today, I have the opportunity to help create a barrier free web so that all people, regardless of abilities, can have equal access.

All for Web! Web for All!


  1. Any website can be ugly and boring. Accessibility has nothing to do with that. Can you give me an example of an accessibility requirement that has specifically caused a site to be ugly and/or boring?

  2. Accessibility needs to be looked at as a discipline within design. Design needs to be about user experience and content, not just the management of pixels on screen. Great post.

  3. Great post. My job requires me to do the same thing very regularly and all legislations aspects taken in context, in my experience, you’ve summed it up very well.

  4. Useful blog, Glenda :-)

    The business case behind accessibility and inclusive design is crucial for all of us accessibility advocates.

    But I fear that your reliance on the legal argument could backfire. Here in the UK, for the last 10 years our Disability Discrimination Act has made it illegal for websites from both public and private organisations to be inaccessible without good reason. And in 10 years how many organisations have been successfully sued? None. That means that, even when websites do get ‘caught’ by users, they often feel they can ignore the complaints of their disabled users (just look at the stats on and get away with it. Accessibility thus becomes an insurance policy that organisations are unsure they need.

    My feeling is that you are on a much better path with the benefits of universal design, SEO etc. If you can prove that organisations will gain good return-on-investment for their accessibility work, they will go into it full-heartedly including user testing to ensure the WCAG work they’ve done actually helps the users they wish to attract, rather than being just a tick-box exercise.
    I’d love it if you could read my blog on this ( and let me know what you think of my arguments…

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