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Gilia Sacharow

6/16/2022

Becoming a Unicorn – How Having An Accessible Product Sets You Up For Success

A black-fill unicorn on a multicolored pastel background

The unicorns of tomorrow need to care for their product accessibility today.

How to Become a Unicorn

Every fledgling startup dreams of one day becoming a unicorn. That is, a privately held company valued at $1B or more. As of June 2022, there are 1,100 unicorn companies worldwide[i]. Any company that takes this aspiration seriously must also care for their product’s accessibility along the way; to neglect it would be to risk litigation, to miss out on the huge share of the market comprised of people with disabilities, and to forgo the opportunity to thoughtfully design their product as well as possible. Be it the product, the company culture, or the market niche it performs, the mark of the unicorn is quality – a company that prioritizes accessibility is much higher on that scale than one that doesn’t.

 

Mitigate Legal Risk

ADA Title III lawsuits have risen over the past several years, and there’s good reason to believe this trend will continue[ii]. The last thing any new company (or a mature one) needs is a lawsuit and the publicity that sometimes comes with it. In many cases, the legal costs and bad publicity that come with these suits, let alone a negative outcome, could make or break the future of a company.

 

A bar graph about the amount ADA Title three lawsuits from 2017 to 2021

[Image description: A bar graph titled: ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits in Federal Court 2017-2021. The y-axis shows numbers starting at zero going up in intervals of 500. The x-axis shows the years: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. The bar for 2017 is blue and goes up to 814; 2018 is red and goes up to 2,258 - a 177% increase from 2017; 2019 is orange, going up to 2,256 - a .01% decrease from 2018; 2020 is green, going up to 2,523 - a 12% increase from 2019; and 2021 is purple, going up to 2,895 - a 14% increase from 2020.]

The linguistic vagueness of the laws that claim to uphold the standards for digital accessibility opens up the possibility for predatory lawsuits, and this is a growing concern for many[iii]. While we see legitimate lawsuits, which push the agenda of accessibility advocates forward, as a good thing, nobody wants to be on the receiving end of either kind. The best way to protect your company and your image is to take a proactive stance on accessibility and ensure that no one has grounds – legitimate or not – to sue you.

 

Maximize Market Share

Based on statistics from the WHO and the CDC, people with disabilities make up between 1/6 and ¼ of the world’s population. They are estimated to have $1.9 trillion in annual disposable income[iv]. This is a huge market with a large amount of spending power that is still mostly untapped. With the overwhelming majority of websites and apps having at least one major WCAG failure[v], people with disabilities are precluded from using most digital products. The long-term goal is to change that statistic, so that every website is usable for everyone, but being among the first to make sure that your product is user-friendly for all would put your company at an advantage and give you the opportunity to create brand loyalty among this overlooked market.

Yes, having an accessible product is primarily about making sure that it has the possibility of equitable use (at least, that’s how we see it), but it would be foolish and naive to pretend that it isn’t also a way of cornering a large share of the market. And with modern consumers and potential investors putting so much stock in the ethics of a company when making purchasing decisions[vi], caring for your product’s accessibility is also a great way to stand behind the values you publicly espouse.

 

Improve Overall Design

Google Voice Assistant Icon

There is a well-documented history of tools and products that were originally designed for the purpose of being assistive technology but soon found favor among the broader population as well. Look no further than the popular voice assistants that are ubiquitous in homes across the country, the fact that you can customize the size of the text on your smartphone, or ramps that were designed for wheelchair accessibility but also help people with strollers or loading dollies. Need I go on? What makes tech usable for people with disabilities also makes it better for people without. Ensuring that your product is accessible will also make it a better product than it would otherwise have been, and a better product is always more likely to succeed, both on the market and in the eyes of investors – something any future unicorn would note.

 

A League Apart

The legality, ethics, and quality of a product and the company behind it are hugely important factors for its ultimate success, and the product’s accessibility (or lack thereof) has a significant impact on all of those. The unicorn is in a category of its own, defined by its exceptional success. And while ultimately, there’s no guarantee that any startup will become a unicorn – some amount of luck is, inevitably, involved – by caring for your product’s accessibility, you’re putting yourself in a much better position than your competitors who don’t. It’s still the case that accessibility is exceptional, and though we’re working to change that, you can be a part of the solution while marking your company as exceptional in the process.

 

 

[i] https://www.cbinsights.com/research-unicorn-companies

[ii] https://www.adatitleiii.com/2022/02/ada-title-iii-federal-lawsuit-filings-hit-an-all-time-high/

[iii] https://www.adatitleiii.com/2022/06/second-circuit-blasts-mass-produced-mad-libs-style-ada-title-iii-complaints-and-affirms-dismissal-of-four-braille-gift-card-lawsuits/

[iv] https://www.rod-group.com/insights

[v] https://webaim.org/projects/million/#density

[vi] https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/consumers-care-if-your-product-is-ethical#:~:text=Consumers%20care%20about%20morality%20and,form%20of%20motivating%20consumer%20behavior.

Inclusive. Compliant. Simple.

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