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Higher Standards for Inclusion: Web Accessibility in Drupal

June 17, 2022 7 minute read
Digital equity for all demands accessible websites for everyone — and it's just good business. Find out how Drupal supports accessibility.
woman using a screen reader

“The web was born as an open, decentralized platform allowing different people in the world to access and share information,” writes Drupal founder Dries Buytaert. This vision of a universal and accessible World Wide Web with equal access to knowledge and resources is a founding tenet of open source communities such as Drupal.  

So who benefits from digital accessibility? In a word, everyone. Web accessibility standards seek to create a better experience for people who are blind or visually impaired, people with physical/motor disabilities, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or people whose temporary injury or illness prevents them from operating as before. Web accessibility is everyone’s responsibility, and when businesses ignore or overlook it, they reject a significant portion of their audience and put themselves at risk of severe financial consequences.

Let's look at why you should make digital accessibility a top business priority and how Drupal prioritizes an accessible web experience for all.   

The consequences of ignoring accessibility 

Organizations that push website accessibility lower and lower on the list of priorities (or, worse, ignore it altogether) increase their risk on multiple fronts. The line up of possible impacts is formidable.

Legal challenges

The movement for a more accessible web has evolved from a moral obligation to a legal priority. In fact, the number of web accessibility lawsuits filed in U.S. courts in 2021 rose 14.3% from 2020, according to Accessibility.com.

More lawsuits are expected in the future. With the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the defendant's petition in Robles v. Domino's Pizza, LLC, the legal consensus points to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applying to websites although it lacks technical accessibility standards. The U.S. Department of Justice responded with a proposed rule that would establish WCAG 2.0 Level AA as a reasonable standard of accessibility but ultimately withdrew its proposal.

Beyond the United States, the UK in 2018 implemented a law requiring all UK service providers to consider “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people. All public sector sites must adhere to the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard and publish an accessibility statement that explains how their website/application meets accessibility criteria. Companies that run afoul of these regulations may suffer penalties.

Weakened brand reputation

No organization wants to be known for having a website that excludes the disabled, yet when brands de-prioritize website accessibility, that's exactly the risk they run. The repercussions can be costly, too. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, more than 25% of a company's market value can be tied directly to its reputation.

The stakes have risen higher recently as the public grows more sensitive to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) issues — Gen Z and Millennials especially. It's in a company's best interest to recognize this sea change and enact initiatives that support DE&I across the board. It's not enough to hire more diverse candidates or to temporarily sport a rainbow-colored logo during Pride Month; equity and inclusion applies to websites too.

Lost market share and revenue

According to the World Bank Group, 15% of the world's population — that's 1 billion people — have some form of disability. In the United States alone, 25.5% of the population self-identifies as disabled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These groups hold considerable purchasing power, counting almost half a trillion dollars in disposable income, reports the Institute for Educational Leadership. Businesses that ignore them sacrifice market share as well as revenue. Indeed, according to a 2019 WebAIM report, 98% of website homepages are inaccessible, costing UK businesses close to £2 billion a month. Another UK study found that 71% of web users with a disability will leave a website that's inaccessible. Organizations leave money on the table when they ignore accessibility.

A clear business case for website accessibility

Given the risks outlined above, businesses must take action to ensure their digital properties meet global standards. “Organizations are starting to understand the universal usability benefits of accessibility," says Olena Bulygina, UX consultant at Acquia partner and digital agency Inviqa. “According to our Great CX for All report, 85% of businesses say they lose out when they don’t cater to users with digital access needs, and we’ve found that usability benefits are the single biggest driver for accessibility initiatives. This appreciation that accessible products are better products will be key to helping more brands design inclusively and ensure a great customer experience for everyone alike."  

When organizations fall short, they lose valuable customers and put themselves at risk of damning legal penalties. Beyond financial losses from fines and legal fees, failing to deliver accessible experiences can cause long-term damage to your brand reputation, alienate users, and miss out on revenue.

But when brands embrace inclusivity as the default, they improve the web experience for all and expand their potential market share to include everyone, be they able-bodied teens, non-native speakers, aging populations, or those with temporary or permanent impairments.

Think of what designers call the curb-cut effect. Until the lobbying efforts of disabled activists, sidewalks lacked curb cuts, yet when they were put into use, they served everyone: shoppers lugging wheeled purchases, kids learning how to bike, patients coming home from the hospital — you name it. Improving a website's accessibility may have much wider benefits than you can even imagine. 

Here are a few ways that inclusive web design helps businesses expand their reach and better serve customers: 

  • Incorporating non-visible site features, such as alt-text descriptions and descriptive text for rich media assets, helps search engines find your site(s) more easily. For example, the popular NPR show “This American Life” found that, by providing episode transcripts on their website, they boosted organic search traffic by 6.68%
  • Accessible website design often results in streamlined code that improves page load times while reducing bandwidth costs. 
  • Higher color contrasts and standardized fonts make content more readable to mobile users and those viewing pages in poor lighting.

Digital leaders understand that the web community is diverse and that their sites should respond to a range of needs and preferences. On the platform side, it's why Drupal is committed to giving organisations the tools and features they need to create more accessible digital experiences. Because let's keep that top of mind: To produce accessible digital experiences, organization must have the right partners and tools.

How Drupal prioritizes digital accessibility 

When Drupal 8 was initially released in 2015, improving website accessibility was a top priority. Drupal core now comes equipped with the Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA), a guideline of technical specifications that the World Wide Web Consortium established to make websites accessible for the disabled. Including these specifications directly in Drupal core makes it easier than ever to build and launch barrier-free sites that adhere to web regulations. Developers have access to all WAI-ARIA capabilities upon initial install, saving businesses the extensive time and resources of having to retroactively equip their sites with accessible components. The Claro administrative theme included in Drupal 8.8 provides a cleaner, easier-to-use interface for site administration, configuration, and authoring. 

Other improved web accessibility features that Drupal 8 introduced include:

  • Aural alerts 
  • Control tab order 
  • Fieldsets and details 
  • Required alt text 
  • Improved colour scheme, font sizes, and mobile responsiveness features

Improving accessibility was a top goal for Drupal 9 as well. For example, the core Drupal default was modernized with an inclusive user experience available right out of the box. Other enhancements include:

  • An inclusive front-end design that reflects current and future CMS standards
  • Additional functionality that supports new features, such as second-level navigation, embedded media, layout builder, and other UX improvements
  • A totally WCAG AA-compliant theme

The mission for a more inclusive and open web experience is always evolving, and the Drupal community is committed to leading the charge. To learn more about Drupal's benefits and how to optimize digital experiences through Drupal, continue reading here.

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