Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day focused on getting everyone talking and learning about digital accessibility and inclusion. Why do we need a day dedicated to this? Because while we see companies making progress toward delivering accessible experiences, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Here’s a look back at the bright spots and opportunities we uncovered in our coverage of the digital accessibility space over the last year.  

Bright Spots: Businesses Fund And Scale Accessibility Programs For Reasons Beyond Compliance  

Our research points to growing recognition of the benefits of accessibility and investment in programs aimed at unlocking those benefits. Here’s a few signs of progress we’ve seen in the last year:   

  • Over half of companies now have executive-level commitments to accessibility. Our last annual survey of design teams found that 60% of companies have a top-down commitment to creating accessible products and the work is happening. That’s up significantly from previous years, driven largely by a recognition of the broader benefits of accessibility like delivering on DEI commitments.
  • Compliance and avoiding lawsuits are no longer the primary driver behind these commitments. Our data reveals a recognition of the broader benefits of accessibility. Thirty-three percent of tech firms cite “attract and retain talent” as the top driver behind their accessibility commitments. In financial services, 27% cite “creating better experiences for all customers” and 24% cite “delivering on DEI commitments.” Even in retail, where avoiding a lawsuit is very much a top driver, 29% report that “winning new customers” is primary. Is compliance still a key driver for businesses? Of course. But it’s not the primary lens through which companies are articulating the importance of accessibility to employees and shaping their approach to the work. 
  • Investments in people and tools increased. Twenty-seven percent of design teams now include accessibility or inclusive design experts and the same percentage plan to hire experts in the next 12 months. These roles enable teams to embed accessibility into their work. Companies are investing in tools for accessibility too — 65% of software decision-makers tell Forrester they’re currently adopting accessibility testing platforms and an additional 17% plan to adopt such tools.  
  • Incoming client inquiries focus on how to operationalize accessibility, not just the basics. We took over 100 inquiries from companies about accessibility in the last year. While in past years most inquiries centered around how to get started, this year nearly half our inquiries related to (a) how to scale by creating an operating model and (b) understanding industry trends and best practices. These questions signal a higher level of maturity and come from clients in many industries including financial services, business services, government, healthcare, and high tech.   

Opportunities: Broaden The Business Case And Implement UX and Procurement Practices    

Accessibility program leaders should focus on expanding the conversation around why accessibility matters and integrate new practices that are key to a sustainable and successful approach. In the next year, leaders must:  

  • Articulate the broader benefits of accessibility for sustained buy-in and funding. As companies navigate a difficult 2023, many struggle to expand accessibility programs amidst competing priorities and expense-cutting efforts. To get this work noticed and properly funded, it’s important to speak to how creating accessible experiences helps increase revenue, decrease costs, improve resilience, and build trust. In the current economic climate, leaning into how a proactive approach reduces costly remediation, decreases customer complaints, and reduces the need for legal support is particularly effective. Leaders can use our research on three steps to build a business case for inclusive design to have fruitful conversations with executives about these broader benefits.  
  • Align accessibility work with broader organizational initiatives around DEI and ethics. Treating accessibility as a purely digital or IT initiative often limits the impact of the work. Connecting accessibility to strategic initiatives around inclusion, responsible design, and ethics instead can increase visibility and promote best practice sharing across teams, avoiding the common trap of fragmented efforts focused on doing right by customers.  
  • Bring a user experience lens to accessibility work. Despite all encouraging signals, there’s one practice lacking from most company’s accessibility programs: repeatable processes for recruiting people with disabilities into the design process. While there’s growing recognition that this is critical to get accessibility right, we find organizations aren’t sure where to begin, so it’s not surprising that how to conduct inclusive research was one of our top four inquiry topics last year. On GAAD, we encourage teams to discuss how they might partner with organizations serving people with disabilities, with ability-focused employee resource groups, or with customers with disabilities to improve their experiences.   
  • Make accessibility a priority in the company’s procurement practices. Nearly a quarter of our accessibility inquiries last year came from services firms — a clear signal of the increasing importance of winning contracts with companies with accessibility requirements. Make sure you’re asking the right questions when considering candidate partners like “what is your methodology for accessibility testing?” and “how are people with disabilities involved in shaping your products and services?”  Procuring accessible technology and services can be the difference between delivering on your accessibility commitments or taking significant steps backwards. 

Next Steps 

If you’re a Forrester client and would like to ask me questions about our research or get advice on how to progress your accessibility program, you can set up a conversation with me. You can also follow or connect with me on LinkedIn if you’d like.  

Stay tuned for more research from Forrester later this year, including a Forrester Landscape and Wave on digital accessibility platforms — platforms used by companies to identify accessibility issues, facilitate issue remediation, and monitor and report on the accessibility of digital experiences.