This week, the world celebrates Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day aimed at getting everyone talking, thinking, and learning about digital access and inclusion. Reflecting on our last four years covering the accessibility industry at Forrester, we see encouraging signs of progress but also long-standing challenges to making widespread digital accessibility a reality. Let me explain.

More Firms Are Making Accessibility A Priority And Broadening How They Approach It

We see three signals pointing to accessibility increasingly being a priority and firms taking more thoughtful approaches to the topic:

  • More companies than ever before have executive-level commitments to accessibility. Our last annual survey of design teams found that 36% of companies have a top-down commitment to creating accessible digital experiences, up 5% from a year prior. And in the absence of formal commitment from the top, grassroots efforts driven by passionate employees are making it happen at 48% of companies.
  • Firms increasingly recognize that accessibility is a critical element of a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy. Factors such as the increasing number of digital accessibility lawsuits in the US used to be what drove most companies to prioritize accessibility. And while that’s still a factor, we increasingly hear from companies launching accessibility initiatives under a DEI umbrella that consider accessibility one important outcome of a broader inclusive design approach.
  • Incoming client inquiries focus on how to scale accessibility practices, not just the basics. Several years ago, nearly all the inquiries we received from clients were flavors of the questions “How do I make the business case for accessibility?” or “Where do I start?” While we still get those questions, we receive just as many questions along the lines of “How do we scale our accessibility program to more areas?” or “What are the best practices for factoring accessibility into procurement decisions?” These questions come later in a company’s accessibility journey and are a sign of a more mature program.

Challenges To Widespread Digital Accessibility Remain

Despite the positive signals we’re seeing, several challenges still hinder progress to widespread digital access and inclusion:

  • Compliance-only-driven approaches persist in certain industries. While some industries such as financial services increasingly focus on accessibility as part of broader efforts around inclusive finance, other industries such as retail still largely treat accessibility as a check-the-box compliance exercise. This is unfortunate, as it limits the business benefits that these companies can unlock. It also leads to shortsighted approaches that fail to seek out the expertise of the people that the accessibility standards are intended to help: people with disabilities.
  • Training and hiring often fail to include accessibility as a required skill for all designers, developers, and other digital roles. While accessibility courses are becoming more common, it’s still not a standard requirement when getting a degree or even a certification in design. Design and development leaders who we interview point to the importance of both senior designers, as well as those entering the field now, understanding accessibility. Unfortunately, many organizations still fail to budget for role-based accessibility training or make assumptions that incoming talent will possess these skills.
  • Firms routinely procure services and technology from suppliers that haven’t prioritized accessibility. Many B2B software organizations we speak with are either just beginning to or haven’t yet begun to make accessibility a priority. And firms acquiring these tools often aren’t asking enough questions when making procurement decisions. This leads to a situation where even firms with top-down accessibility commitments inadvertently enter into relationships with suppliers that hinder them from achieving their accessibility goals. We predicted that this will change in 2022, particularly in the design services and technology space, but many technology categories have a long way to go to meet these new requirements from brands.

Ready To Get Started With Accessibility? We Have Research To Help You

Here’s a roundup of Forrester’s recent coverage of accessibility:

Get Help With Digital Accessibility: Tips For Selecting An Accessibility Partner. Wondering which vendors can help you audit your experiences, fix accessibility issues, train up your teams, and put the necessary processes in place to help you achieve your accessibility goals? Check out this blog post.

Design Leaders Reveal How To Build Inclusive And Diverse Teams — And Why That Matters. An inclusive and diverse design team is an essential component for creating inclusive experiences and one that many firms are missing. This research guides you through the four components of creating inclusive and diverse teams: advancing equity, creating a diverse team composition, building an inclusive team culture, and applying an inclusive design process.

Words Matter: Inclusive Experiences Start With Inclusive Language. Text content doesn’t receive enough attention when it comes to accessibility. Read this research to learn the best practices for using accessible and, more broadly, inclusive text content in your forms, product marketing pages, and any other interactions that make up your customers’ experience.

Get Accessibility Right: Recruit People With Disabilities Into The Design Process. This report explains a key ingredient for creating experiences that are truly accessible, not just compliant with accessibility standards: including people with disabilities in your experience design process.

Digital Accessibility Enters The Spotlight As A Business Priority. Learn about the benefits of digital accessibility and how many companies are doing the work to create accessible experiences or formally establish an accessibility practice.

Stay tuned for more research from Forrester on digital accessibility later this year.