Karl Groves

Tech Accessibility Consultant
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Website Accessibility and Buying Power of Persons with Disabilities

This blog post is part of a series of posts discussing the Business Case for Accessibility. In order to get a full view of the Business Case for Accessibility, I encourage you to read all posts in this series, links to which can be found at the bottom of this post.

Numerous statistics are often cited by accessibility advocates which present large numbers for the rate of disability, particularly in the United States. I’ve seen numbers ranging from 49,000,000 to 54,000,000 for the number of people having a disability in the US. This equates to about 20% of the US population. Clearly this is a large number one should not ignore. Accessibility advocates imply that by creating an accessible website, you can capture a greater market share from a demographic with strong buying power.

  • Does it increase income? That seems to be the implication. The argument here is that this is a large population that can be captured, provided a site is accessible. What’s a bit difficult to track down are data on income on a per-site basis by persons with disabilities.
  • Does save money? No.
  • Does it mitigate risk? Sort of. I’ll talk about that in a separate blog post.
  • How strong is the evidence? Semi-Strong. According to the DoJ, the buying power of persons with disabilities is "larger than the percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. population (13.3%), the country’s largest ethnic, racial, or cultural minority group"

Saying that 20% of the US population has a disability is a tad misleading. Does this mean that 20% of your site’s visitors will have a disability? Maybe, depending on your user demographics. But even still, that doesn’t mean 20% of your visitors will have a disability which impacts their ability to use the web. Someone who is classified as disabled because they’re missing their leg from the knee down isn’t going to have a problem with an inaccessible website. People with severe mental disorders or combinations of severe disorders may never use the web at all. Further, persons with disabilities are almost twice as likely to live in poverty. All of this means that income generated from people who need an accessible website may be low.

Quite astutely, some may wonder "Well, how many of my site’s visitors need it to be accessible?". To be blunt, there’s no accurate way of knowing. Effectively tracking persons with disabilities is impossible through analytics. The only data available that I’m aware of that may help is more of this global data: According to the Census Bureau (PDF) 3.6% of the US Population have a sensory disability (hearing or visual), 8.2% have a mobility impairment, 4.8% have a cognitive disorder. You can say that those with a sensory disability will definitely require an accessible website. You can also say that a substantial portion of those with mobility and cognitive disabilities will require an accessible website. I therefore give an estimate of 7-10% of potential customers have a direct need for an accessible website.

Ultimately, whether this particular argument is a compelling reason to make an accessible site largely depends on the specific business. In some cases, persons with disabilities which require an accessible site can amount to 7-10% of your potential visitors. Can you afford to lose 7-10% of your website’s visitors? Or, put another way, would you like to gain an additional 7-10% more users? Make an accessible web experience and publicize it well and you may capture some of them and see some direct ROI from accessibility.

None of this, of course, is the same as saying 7-10% of your actual user base needs an accessible website. Unfortunately, merely having an accessible website may never mean an increase in business from persons with disabilities. Why? Because they might not know about you or might not know your site is an accessible alternative to your competitors. The best way to capture this market is to not only build an accessible site but also market heavily to the disabled community. Without doing so, the ROI proposed by this business case may never materialize.

The final word: you can’t claim ROI based on business you could have. Arguing something as a Business Case only matters if you can prove it delivers actual money. Of course you could have 100% more income if you had 100% more sales, but saying maybe, possibly, some people might come spend money is conjecture, not a business case. When someone actually proves they’ve actively made accessibility changes that brought in money from persons with disabilities, it will be a strong business case.

I’m available for accessibility consulting, audits, VPATs, training, and accessible web development, email me directly at karl@karlgroves.com or call me at +1 443-875-7343