Is Accessibility Worth It? By The Numbers

Even the most well-intentioned business or web site owner, when faced with the prospect of having to make their site more accessible to people with disabilities, may find themselves asking, “Do I really have to go through all of this for such a small percentage of visitors? How many disabled people actually will come to my web site?”

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2007 Annual Disability Status Report1 provides statistics based on several criteria, from age brackets to income and employment.

Amongst U.S. population from the “working-age” demographic of 21 to 64:

Disability Type – Percent
Any Disability – 12.8%
Sensory – 2.9%
Physical – 7.9%
Mental – 4.7%

If you look at straight-up numbers from age 5 and up (with the caveat, of course, that the youngest and oldest ends of those spectrums have a lower percentage of actual web users):

Any Disability – 14.9%
Sensory – 4.2%
Physical – 9.4%
Mental – 5.8%

Percentages are one thing. 2.9-4.2% of the U.S. population having hearing or vision disabilities isn’t a number that may wow you. However, when you equate that to real numbers — 5,033,000 to 11,696,000 — it suddenly doesn’t seem so insignificant.

Obviously, those numbers apply broadly to people with disabilities, not people with disabilities who specifically surf the web.

Pew Internet’s The Ever-Shifting Internet Population (link to a PowerPoint document) cites statistics from 2003 that shed some light on disabled web users:

Some highlights:

  • 38% of Americans with disabilities surf the web
  • Almost 20% of them say that their disability makes web browsing challenging
  • Nearly 30% of disabled Americans live in households netting less than $20,000 a year, which makes challenging — if not impossible — the procurement of assistive technologies, which are often expensive

Again, while 38% of what is already a small percentage of American society doesn’t seem like a staggering number, but they are people in cyberspace trying to make the most of their experience, be it research, entertainment, or even shopping.

I’ve heard similar arguments in my life about the need to go out of one’s way to make websites 100% aesthetically-clean and functional in non-IE browsers like Firefox and Safari. That sentiment seems more and more antiquated and silly now, but it’s of a similar vein as the accessibility question.

Are you willing to simply say “Too bad” to 5% of potential visitors/customers? 10%? More?

If web developers or designers engrain in their coding acumen the basic fundamentals of web accessibility, such as proper title and alt tags in all images or not forgetting to list out your doc type or assign a language to your html tag, it’s not moving mountains or spending gobs of money to make your site easier for assistive technologies and disabilities browsers to get around.

It’s not only becoming more and more of a legal issue, it’s also an issue of ethics. It’s maybe hokey and Wilford Brimley-esque to say “It’s the right thing to do,” but really it is. Are you really willing to say that what you’re trying to sell or convey on the Internet isn’t important or relevant to would-be disabled visitors?

You can’t make a site 100% accessible to everybody — it’s just not realistic and somewhere you have to draw a line. But following basic standards will not only make your sites easier for blind, deaf, and physically-limited surfers to get around, but they’ll tend to be more standards-compliant and easier to navigate for -everybody-.

That’s an all-around win.

1 Houtenville, Andrew J. 2005. “Disability Statistics in the United States.” Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics, Posted May 15, 2003. Accessed March 28, 2005.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.