How Accessible is Your Business?
The Americans with Disabilities Act
President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990. The ADA is civil rights legislation designed to ensure that people with disabilities have the same access to opportunities as those without a disability. That includes opportunities for employment, the ability to purchase products and services, access to education, and the right to participate in government.1
Depending on which study you read—and largely on how you define disability—you will see a wide range of numbers for how many US citizens are living with disabilities. The U.S. Census Bureau defines disability status based on standards of hearing, vision, cognition, walking or climbing stairs, or difficulty with self-care or independent living.2 According to 2015 data from the census bureau, 40 million Americans fall into this category, representing about 13% population.
The ADA helps bring awareness to, and aid accessibility for, Americans living with disabilities. It provides a set of rules and requirements for institutions and businesses to follow to make participation in mainstream activities possible for those of us who might otherwise have difficulties due to a physical or mental limitation.
That’s all well and good from a legal standpoint, but it falls on us as business owners, employees and fellow humans to understand the spirit behind this law. And that is that we treat each other with respect and that we work to provide the same opportunities to each other regardless of disability status.
Americans with Disabilities as a Market Segment
The economic power of Americans with disabilities is impressive. According to a 2018 report from the American Institutes for Research, the total after-tax income for Americans with disabilities as a group is $490 billion.3
And remember that people in this segment have friends and family that also benefit from improved accessibility, which boosts purchasing power even higher. In addition to the legal and ethical reasons for paying attention to this diverse group, the economics alone make good business sense.
As we move toward greater awareness and understanding of people with disabilities as a part of society and the business landscape, another aspect worth considering is the contributions that those with disabilities can make to businesses not just from an outside customer perspective, but as active contributors and employees.
People with disabilities often have unique skill sets and perspectives that can impact your organization in a positive way. For one thing, having someone on staff who is actually living with a disability is a great way to help monitor and improve your accessibility. An employee with a disability can bring an understanding and awareness to issues that you may not have otherwise considered.
Employing people with disabilities is also a brand booster. According to a survey published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 92% of consumers say that they hold higher opinions of businesses that employ people with disabilities. And over a third say they prefer doing business with organizations known for hiring people with disabilities.4 That makes hiring someone with a disability good for the person you hired, good for your business and good for your customers. Boom. Triple win.
How to Improve Accessibility
So now that your wheels are (hopefully) churning about how your business could improve its accessibility for people with disabilities, let’s review some practical ways to do just that.
In a Physical Space:
- ADA signs
- The Americans with Disabilities Act outlines specific requirements for signage
- These requirements dictate sign contrast, mounting height, and location, among other things
- The H&H Group’s sign experts know the ins-and-outs of ADA signage and can help you with compliance
- Allowing for physical movement
- Ramps and elevators
- Wide, clear pathways
- Accessible restrooms
As an Employer:
- Modify or adjust jobs or working environments
- Make allowances for modified schedules or time frames
- Acquire or modify equipment as needed
On Your Website:
- Optimize for automated screen reader software
- Many users navigate the web with the assistance of software that “reads” pages and converts the content to audio
- Make sure images on your site are tagged with descriptions
- This is particularly important for product or case study images
- To check if your descriptions are effective, pretend you aren’t looking at an image and someone is verbally describing it to you
- Provide clear navigation and form labels
- People need to know how to get around your site and what information you are trying to collect in your shopping cart or form fields
- Check that all input fields are clearly marked with labels that identify their purpose make it easy for users to understand what to do
- Verify that your web pages can be navigated 100% via keyboard for users operating without a mouse
- Make sure your web pages are not cluttered
- Pages jammed with too much information can be off-putting and hard to read for the visually impaired and others
- Readers with dyslexia or vestibular disorders can have trouble viewing sites with crowded content or excessive animations
Inclusiveness Helps Everyone
We’ve been looking at this through the lens of making sure that our retail spaces, workplaces, and websites are optimized for people with disabilities. But the reality is that being mindful of these things actually creates a better user experience for everyone.
Thoughtful layout of our physical spaces and our online ones results in streamlined, easy-to-navigate environments that make everybody’s experience less stressful and more positive.
Here are a few sources for additional information if you are interested in learning more about ADA requirements and best practices for accessibility and accessible design.
ADA Standards for Accessible Design – A reference for legal requirements straight from the source.
American Association of People With Disabilities – Resources and advocacy programs aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities.
10 Things People With Disabilities Wish Online Retailers Knew – Article with good, practical insights on implementing website accessibility.
The Partnership On Accessibility – A resource for employers concerning accessible technology in the workplace.