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Why web accessibility is a marketing issue in 2023

In a society that wants to be more and more inclusive and in which the use of digital is growing exponentially, it is clear that the accessibility of digital content is a major issue

The concept of accessibility is not limited to digital, since it concerns access by people with disabilities to services in general: transport, education, work, etc.

In the digital context, accessibility is not a new concept either: the first accessibility directives of the W3C (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) were published in 1999.

In a society that wants to be more and more inclusive and in which the use of digital is growing exponentially, it is clear that the accessibility of digital content is a central issue. As digital marketing experts, we are committed to contributing to a more accessible web, and our role is to support companies in this progress.

On the other hand, being more digitally accessible brings benefits for brands, around two issues: a question of image (being inclusive), but also of performance (reaching a large audience).

In this article, we come back to some fundamental points of web accessibility, particularly in the context of digital marketing.

1. What is digital accessibility?

As in other areas of our society, accessibility is primarily aimed at people with disabilities. Today, the situation is clear: in the world, more than a billion people have a disability that affects their ability to read web content, and more than 70% of digital content is not accessible to them.

But first, what access are we talking about? This involves accessing information content (texts, images, sounds), services (forms, programs, etc.). This assumes that the content is presented and structured in such a way that all users: for example, to allow access via screen reading software to the visually impaired, or even to allow the reading of subtitles of a video to a hearing impaired person.

These are the most telling cases, but to get a better idea of ​​the diversity of disability situations for accessing a site, I recommend that you try this site from Content Square.

Digital Accessibility_ In Their Shoes

In the case of digital accessibility, it is also necessary to broaden the issue, beyond people’s disabilities. If the objective is to allow the greatest number of users to access content, this also implies

  • design applications that run on as many operating systems as possible; for example, for mobile users who already have a few years of use… (limit obsolescence),
  • to design relatively light applications, operating with limited speed internet connections,
  • and to offer different language versions (depending on the relevance of the content for the countries concerned)

The international reference organization for the principles of accessibility, the W3C, defines accessibility as the combination of 4 fundamental principles. To be accessible, a digital service must be:

  • Perceptible

Users must be able to perceive the information presented with their senses. If necessary, alternatives must be proposed.

  • Operable

Users must be able to use the interface: buttons, menus, etc.

  • Understandable

Users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface. The information must be structured, the function of the interfaces must be explained.

  • Robust

Content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents (mobile, browsers…), including assistive technologies.

2. The technical and legal framework for web accessibility

2.1. How to assess the level of accessibility?

Standards and criteria

First of all, it is a question of specifying on which criteria the level of accessibility of a site is evaluated. This level can be very precisely defined and verified thanks to criteria repositories and standards.

At the international level, this is the standard issued by the W3C: the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, currently in their version 2.1, a version 2.2 being planned for the beginning of 2023). WCAG is a standard offering technical specifications, rules, techniques and descriptions of accessibility solutions.

The WCAG standard is articulated around 3 levels: A, AA, AAA. Being declared accessible is already information in itself! Then, the level depends on the number of criteria satisfied and their priority. The AAA level is the most difficult.

At the French level, the RGAA (General Repository for Improving Accessibility, currently in its 4th version) is a method of applying the international standard (the WCAG) and constitutes a set of reference with the list of control criteria (106 in total), verification methods, and legal obligations.



Evaluation methods

There is no miracle method to measure the level of accessibility of a site or an application, because most criteria require human analysis. Let’s give an example: the content of the attributes of the <img> tags must be relevant to the content of the images, if these images are “carrying information”. Thus, an “alt” attribute (text alternative to media) should describe the content of the image and explain its function in the context of the page. This necessarily involves human verification.

The most successful method, essential for assigning a level of accessibility (A, AA, AAA) is therefore to have an audit of the application carried out by a certified expert.

However, a large part of the criteria are based on the technical qualities of the application: to check these criteria, it is possible to use programs, existing on the web, allowing to give a score (unofficial) and recommendations of ‘improvement. This is a first step, often sufficient for site publishers who have no obligation to declare their accessibility.

Here are some examples of these tools:

  • Accessibility Checker, for websites
  • Accessibility Scanner from Google, for Android apps
  • Fruggr, for websites: the scope of this solution is much broader (and interesting!) since it combines 3 dimensions of responsible digital: social impacts (including accessibility), environmental impact, and sobriety).

The legal framework

If in the United States lawsuits against site publishers for failure in terms of accessibility have taken place (here is an example), based on the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

This is not yet the case in France, where the legal framework is based on the Law of February 11, 2005 for equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of people with disabilities. The reason is that for the moment, the legal constraint does not relate to the level of accessibility, but to the need to display a declaration of accessibility (of which here is the framework). This obligation currently only concerns the following organisations:

  • State services;
  • local authorities ;
  • public establishments;
  • organizations inherited from a public service mission;
  • companies whose turnover in France exceeds 250 million euros;
  • general interest organizations.

This therefore already concerns a large number of organizations and companies, and this legal framework is therefore a reality for many players with a presence on the web.

Who says legal obligation, says possible sanction. Today, the sanction is still relatively little dissuasive, but nevertheless real: offenders risk a financial penalty of 20,000 euros per online service.

3. The benefits of web accessibility for brands and companies

If the penalties for breaching accessibility requirements are therefore relatively low in France, then why do brands and companies have an interest in putting accessible sites online?

In fact, these benefits are multiple, important, and sometimes indirect.

  • First of all, remember that whatever the site, its value and its usefulness are proportional to the size of its population of visitors and users… However, neglecting accessibility significantly reduces the size of the audience. Here are some numbers to prove it:
    • 71% of customers with accessibility needs will leave a website they find difficult to use
    • Worldwide, 2.2 billion people have reduced vision, 700 million people are dyslexic and 466 million suffer from hearing loss… Of these, how many are potential users or customers?…
  • Next, companies are now committing to increasingly demanding CSR policies: the accessibility of online services and content responds to issues of responsibility, and therefore helps companies to achieve their CSR objectives.
    Indirectly, putting forward that your site is accessible also contributes to a responsible brand image: there is therefore also a communication issue.
  • Finally, and these are indirect but very positive benefits: accessibility often goes hand in hand with
    • a better user experience design (UX): Beyond people with disabilities, accessibility raises the bar in terms of UX: improving accessibility will therefore create a more pleasant user experience, and significantly increase its online conversion rate.
    • more efficient search engine optimization (SEO): indexing robots are probably the most demanding users in terms of accessibility… Those who do not see and hear!

4. What methodology should be adopted to integrate accessibility into the design of a site?

The Dékuple agency has adopted a methodology comprising several stages.

1. Even before the creation or redesign of the site

This first step is strategy and aims at:

  • determining the target level of accessibility. It depends on the audience of users targeted, their conditions of consultation, and any legal obligations of the company (or its CSR policy). A site aimed at a population of seniors, a public service, or a site operating mainly in a mobile situation, will for example have higher requirements.
  • defining the measurement method and the frequency of analysis: is a simple analysis tool enough, or is an audit necessary?

2. During the design phase, and before development

During design, user interfaces are modeled: colors, architectures, functionalities, interface components (UI), content templates, etc. This step is therefore critical for the level of accessibility. Each stage of the design (wireframes, models, html) must therefore be checked by an accessibility expert.

Ideally, the team in charge of design (project manager, web designer, front-end integrator) will already be made aware, even trained, and will integrate good practices from the first versions.

During this phase, we will seek to ensure the readability of the content (contrast, font size, etc.), to identify the essential control buttons (for example, to control a carousel), to avoid the use of images (and to provide the alternatives ), etc.

The McDonald’s website carousel is a good example:



3. During development

Development is also a key step. The html splitting, the use of title tags, alternative texts, the placement of links, etc., are all points impacted by the accessibility criteria. The way the CMS (content management system) is designed must also make it possible to meet accessibility needs (for example, by leaving the webmaster the possibility of entering alternative content).

During the development of the interface, the ideal is to plan the design of a palette of adjustment of the interface according to the handicaps.


4. After going online, during the life of the site

The question of accessibility does not stop when the site is put online, since it is generally designed to evolve, both by updating content and by adding features. In fact, the most difficult thing is not to obtain accessibility, but to keep it!

The webmaster must be rigorous and systematically think about entering alternative texts. When a new feature is developed, or when a new plugin is added, a little verification of the code with the validation tool may be required…

In conclusion…

Any organization, and in particular any company, must consider web accessibility as an issue in 2023. This question is part of corporate social responsibility, and becomes essential given the importance of inclusion in 2023, and of the digital explosion.

Beyond fairness and inclusion, this is also simply good web performance practice: accessibility will increase performance. In this, accessibility is one of the marketing levers for companies that should not be overlooked.

This is why, in 2023, beyond the organizations legally concerned by the declaration of accessibility, many companies have already understood this issue and produced sites allowing good use despite disabilities.