The State of Digital Accessibility in The Corporate World (Q4, 2022)
Half a year ago, we published research about enterprise practices in accessibility – how many of the top companies had dedicated accessibility teams or leads, and the correlation between accessibility and success. Now, an updated version with new insights is here.
Updated Research for Uncertain Times
2022 was a year of intense market volatility, and we wanted to know how the state of accessibility in enterprise has been affected. The overall trend wherein the best-performing companies tend to have the more mature approaches to accessibility has remained, but we’re also seeing the numbers go up overall. A volatile market means faster change, and an increased concern for accessibility shows that it’s here to stay, and moreover, that the need for sophisticated accessibility solutions will only intensify.
Accessibility in Today’s Enterprises
Whereas last year we referred to the S&P 500 as our main source, this time we looked at the Fortune 500. Both are excellent measures of enterprise success, but there are differences that make the Fortune 500 better for our purposes. Fortune lists the top 500 companies based on revenue data and includes both public and private companies. The S&P index lists 500 publicly-traded companies that are selected on the basis of their liquidity and market capitalization. The S&P 500 measures current success in a more abstract way, and serves as a tool for those observing the market as a whole rather than a particular segment of it. The main advantage the Fortune 500 list has over the S&P 500 is that it includes all companies regardless of who holds them. It’s a more detailed view of what companies have succeeded over the last year.
We took the Fortune 500 list from 2022 and looked up which companies had accessibility teams/leads, which ones care for their accessibility by outsourcing it, and who seems to have disregarded it (most of those in this category aren’t customer-facing businesses). We saw, in keeping with what we saw six months ago, that the top-performing businesses were far more likely to have a dedicated accessibility team or lead as part of their organization.
[image description: (from our previous research) A chart titled "Companies with A11y lead out of S&P 500". The y-axis, titled “companies with a11y lead (%),” shows percentages from 0 to 100 in intervals of 25. The x-axis, titled “S&P 5-500 (number)” shows the S&P 500 grouped as numbers 500 through 5 in intervals of 50 until the last 50, which include the top 20, 15, 10, then 5. The bars gain in height as the numbers of the S&P get smaller, ranging from 20.2% to 100%, increasing incrementally across the chart.]
That observation alone isn’t new. What’s new is the overall volume of enterprises that have incorporated accessibility on an organizational level. In the summer, the percentage of S&P 500 companies that had in-house accessibility teams was relatively low at 20.2%. Now, the percentage of Fortune 500 companies to whom that applies is much larger at 41.4% by our measure – approximately double what it was just half a year ago. At the top levels the numbers are similarly high, but as we predicted in our last state of the enterprise report, the field appears to be levelling out. Accessibility is becoming a more mainstream practice among the world’s top enterprises, no longer reserved for the best of the best.
[image description: A chart titled “Percentages of Companies with A11y.” The y-axis shows percentages 0-100 in intervals of 25. The x axis is empty, but each bar has a label. The first, “Total with a11y team/lead,” reaches 41.4%; the second, “Top 250 with a11y team/lead,” reaches 56.06%; the third, “Top 100 with a11y team/lead,” reaches 69.4%; the fourth, “top 25 with a11y team/lead,” reaches 76.19%; the fifth, “Top 10 with a11y team/lead,” reaches 80%; the sixth and final, “Top 5 with a11y team/lead,” reaches 100%.]
Another phenomenon we noticed during this round of research was that the middle and lower ranking companies (from about number 250 and up) were likely to outsource their accessibility compliance to a third party. These are the businesses that seem to have realized accessibility’s importance but haven’t yet begun to prioritize it as an in-house need. This is the area we can expect to see early adoption of innovative accessibility solutions that are entering the market, and it will be interesting to watch this play out over the next half year.
Challenges for Enterprise Accessibility
One of the major challenges for accessibility in the corporate world is that it’s hard to measure the return on investment for it. A business can use analytics and track them before and after implementing measures for accessibility, but it’s hard to know what factors may have contributed to growth. The result of an accessible user experience is an absence of problems the presence of any indication that all is well. That’s why it’s unsurprising that we see that it’s the companies with the largest revenue streams, the most resources, and the biggest reputations to maintain who are allocating personnel and money to accessibility – they’re proactively preventing issues rather than only reactively fixing ones that already exist. Organizations that aren’t there yet are less likely to take such a mature approach to something that doesn’t clearly show its returns.
Another challenge is the organizational lack of knowledge about accessibility and what it takes to ensure that products are accessible. If decision makers in businesses haven’t had firsthand or second-hand (watching a loved one, for example) experience facing the barriers to access created when digital products are inaccessible, they’re unlikely to understand why it’s so important. That’s why you’ll hear the argument citing statistics about the number of people with disabilities so often – it serves as a way to make the problem “real” for people who wouldn’t otherwise care.
On top of contending with not understanding the problem, there is also a lack of understanding when it comes to the solution. Digital accessibility is a world unto itself, and ironically, not a very accessible one. The knowledge required to make something accessible, to test for accessibility, and to remediate issues is very technical, and it isn’t obvious to laypeople why that might be the case. Businesses are, more than likely, unaware that significant resources should be devoted to accessibility unless they’re concerned about litigation. These factors are more likely to be present in smaller companies than larger ones, where there are more voices contributing to decisions.
Accessibility Is Everyone’s Job
Even in companies that have dedicated accessibility teams, it’s really up to the entire organization to create accessible products. There are two types of buy-in when it comes to accessibility: top-down and bottom-up. Top-down buy in is what it looks like when an organization has a “head of accessibility” position, as we see in top enterprises increasingly often. This is the kind of buy in we’re looking at in this research. But bottom-up buy in can be found at all levels. Individual developers and user experience (UX) designers can prioritize accessibility and implement it as a matter of course. That way is less likely to increase awareness, but if it leads to a more accessible digital world, we’re all for it. And a major advantage of the bottom-up approach is that it makes it easier for the company to implement accessibility-driven practices when they do ultimately adopt it on an organizational level.
One way for medium and small companies that don’t have a dedicated team to disperse the responsibility is by shifting accessibility left. When accessibility is implemented early in the development cycle, it means it can then be tested earlier, and every stage of product release can include it. It means that everyone in the organization has a hand in it, so that even smaller enterprises can create accessible products.
Levelling Out and Levelling Up
Ultimately, whether an organization has a head of accessibility or accessibility team in place speaks more about the size of the organization than how accessible their products/user experience actually are. But on a macro level, the number and kind of companies that have mature, in-house accessibility teams gives credence to the idea that accessibility is quickly becoming a mainstream concern.
 With the caveat that we’re using similar, but not the same data for our research this time around.
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