What Does a Venture Capitalist Know about Web Accessibility Anyway?
Earlier today I responded to a private Linked-In discussion thread posted by Eric Velleman. The context of the discussion involved the need of legal mandates to enforce web accessibility. In turn, this led to a discussion involving the ROI of web accessibility. Following were (and still are!) my brief thoughts on this topic:
A venture capital friend of mind once said, “To build a successful business you need one of two things: 1) A brilliant, paradigm shifting, mind blowing product (i.e., iPad/iPhone, Google, Facebook) or 2) A law that makes your business mandatory.”
To a limited degree the accessibility business has achieved #2 — we have laws, mostly procurement laws — that require accessibility. Unfortunately, enforcement is only taken seriously by the minority. Law suits by various disability constituency organizations are an extension of the law — but they also create a fear-based model of compliance. And, as Jonathan Hassell notes in his blogs, neither generates a business value proposition for most (if not all) commercial and government entities.
Jonathan also makes a great point about the lack of data and statistics that drill into disability usage. We also lack the architecture at the API and DOM levels that could feed the SEO data to the source such that AT usage is perceived. The moment a web property — site, service, or application — attempts to elicit personal data, even something as simple as the AT-type, concerns involving privacy and self-identification are raised.
Please be sure to read Jonathan’s blogs on web accessibility:
Recent vendor information I’ve read indicates that less than 3% of all people with visual disabilities have screen magnifiers and/or screen reader technology at all. Without AT that connects to an internet user agent, how will these folks interact with a web site? If they don’t interact with a web site to buy products, make travel/hotel reservations, perform bank transactions, and/or access government services, why would a business or government accommodate them? Businesses cater to sales, revenues, and profits.
Accessibility — optimized at any level — provides no solution involving these concerns. That is, we can make a site accessible and usable but that doesn’t guarantee that users (consumers) will come. It means that some users will come (i.e., those that have AT that is compatible with the web). But those users are so few in comparison to other internet demographics that they are hardly compelling enough to move a business to accommodate the consumer with a disability. It’s certainly not compelling enough to suggest that a business will change priorities.
Make no mistake about it colleagues — if we don’t make changes — of the paradigm shifting magnitude — I predict that 80% or better of individuals with ALL disabilities will be locked out of what is today an internet/digital driven society. And if that happens, you and I are to blame. Especially me — us — TPG.
Am I off base? Let me know.