This is an old draft. The published version of this document is at

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Business Benefits of Accessible Web Design

This is an old draft. The published version of this document is at

Note: This document is an initial draft [see change log in progress] and should not be referenced or quoted under any circumstances. This document is under development by the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG), and will be offered to other W3C groups and the public for review in due course.

  1. Introduction
  2. Increase Market Share and Audience Reach
  3. Improve Efficiency
  4. Demonstrate Social Responsibility
  5. Reduce Legal Liability
  6. Benefits Matrices

1. Introduction

This document is one of several resources created to assist the preparation of a business case for the implementation of Web accessibility. It describes the many business, technical and other benefits to the organization above and beyond the straightforward benefits to people with disabilities that can be realized by applying the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0) to Web sites.

Conformance with the WCAG 1.0 (and other W3C) guidelines will enhance the market share and audience reach of your Web site by increasing its general usability. Adoption of WCAG 1.0 recommendations also demonstrates your commitment to social responsibility and equity of access to information and services. In addition, many of the WCAG 1.0 checkpoints will directly improve the performance of your Web services and reduce the maintenance effort required.

It should be noted that the following list contains some duplication; a number of the WCAG 1.0 checkpoints clearly benefit more than one general area as highlighted by the benefits matrices at the end of this document.

2. Increase Market Share and Audience Reach

Increasing discovery, access and usability of your Web site for all visitors is a major benefit from applying many of the WCAG 1.0 checkpoints. Furthermore, the proportion of people with disabilities can range up to 20 percent in some populations. A significant portion of those people with disabilities - in some countries as many as 8% to 10% of the overall population - can benefit from Web sites' conforming with WCAG 1.0.

Improve usability for non-disabled and disabled visitors

The usability of Web sites is becoming a very important topic as organizations struggle to reach, and especially to retain, a wider audience. Since implementation of the WCAG 1.0 checkpoints has the effect of increasing the usability of Web sites, following the guidelines will help you achieve this.

Support for Low Literacy Levels

In every nation there are significant numbers of people who do not share the same level of literacy as the professionals who design your Web sites and write your content. Following the WCAG 1.0 recommendations can support users who have low literacy levels and those people for whom the language of your Web site is not their first.

Improve Search Engine listings and Resource Discovery

Simply stated, content that is not text-based is not available to search engines or other automatic data-mining applications. Much important content on your site may be "locked-up" in unsearchable formats. By exposing this content you can significantly increase the chance that people searching for particular content on your site can find it. From a strategic point of view, anything you can do to increase the likelihood that your site will be found is a positive benefit.

Support for the Semantic Web

The Semantic Web is an extension of the current Web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation. The Semantic Web will enable data on the Web to be defined and linked in a way that it can be used by machines not just for display purposes, but for automation, integration and reuse of data across various applications. Organizations adopting elements of the Semantic Web will be positioned to increase their audiences as this new technology is developed.

Repurpose content for multiple formats or devices

In the continually evolving world of Web applications and Web technologies it makes sense to design your content and service so that it can be adapted quickly and efficiently to meet any new circumstance. Using existing design techniques like those in the WCAG 1.0 will ensure that your message will be readily available to your changing (and expanding) customer base and any new technologies they may choose.

Separate structure and semantics from presentation. If you markup or provide content that is intimately linked with one particular display or access technology, your content is likely to be inaccessible or unusable on other technologies. The ideal situation is one in which you provide the content (structure and semantics) separately from the presentation of the information. You can then more easily create alternate layouts for different Web devices, alternate views that can be chosen by the client, or let the differing Web devices render the content in the way that best suits their capabilities.

Increase support for Internationalization

In an expanding global marketplace, ignoring or alienating potential clients or customers in other countries may be detrimental to your business. The WCAG 1.0 describes a number of techniques that can enhance your ability to reach this global audience.

Assisting access for low-bandwidth users

Providing alternative content that is appropriate for low-bandwidth connections is a market-increasing strategy. While affordable, available high-bandwidth technology is becoming a reality for some Web users, by far the majority of the world's users are limited to low-bandwidth connections because of geographical isolation, underdeveloped communications infrastructure, or economic limitation. Even those living in areas with access to high-bandwidth infrastructure may still be limited to low-bandwidth applications because of the technology they have chosen to use (such as cell-phones, PDAs, etc.) or are forced by economic circumstances to use (eg. older systems).

3. Improve Efficiency

While the previous section highlights features that will increase your audience, the following section describes the benefits to your operational processes and technical procedures of applying the WCAG 1.0 techniques.

Reduce site maintenance

Site development and maintenance costs are an ongoing concern for businesses. Applying design techniques that can reduce these costs is a strategic move. Another concern is the rapidly changing Web technology market; are there techniques that you can apply to help you meet the challenge afforded by these changes? The WCAG 1.0 gives you many such techniques.

Site Search Engine Improvements

Clearer content and the inclusion of alt-text with your images and other non-text elements will assist all visitors to your site to utilize your search facilities if they cannot locate the information or services they seek through normal navigation means. Depending on the search engine you employ, metadata, structural markup and multimedia captioning can also contribute to improved resource discovery within your site. If your customers' searching is more successful, they will not need to use more resource-consuming technical or business support services.

Repurposing Content

The adoption of device independent practices will enhance your ability to repurpose your content for use on the evolving range of Web enabled devices from WAP-enabled phones to PDAs to in-car navigation devices. Techniques include the separation of structure from presentation, and ensuring that content relevance and importance is not portrayed through color alone.

Address server-load

With increasing traffic on the Internet, many organizations are discovering their server performance may not be keeping up with client demand. WCAG 1.0 techniques can help reduce the load being placed on your server.

Address server-bandwidth

With increasing traffic on the Internet, server-bandwidth can also be inadequate to meet client demand. Again, WCAG 1.0 techniques can help reduce the load being placed on your server connections.

4. Demonstrate Social Responsibility

Some benefits to an organization, such as goodwill from the general public, may be less tangible than the economic or technical ones described earlier. However, in an extremely competitive world-marketplace can any benefits be ignored?

5. Reduce Legal Liability

In many countries around the world discrimination laws require governments, educational institutes, corporations and businesses to provide equal opportunities for people with disabilities. This may include equal access to electronic information and services in the same way that physical access to facilities is required. The laws vary from country to country and a listing of country specific laws and policies is maintained by WAI.

Having your programmers and developers incorporate WCAG 1.0 checkpoints into your Web site design from an early stage will be more efficient, and cheaper, than doing so after protracted legal proceedings.

Furthermore, an increasing number of industry organizations in various countries are developing accessibility codes of practice or industry policies.

6. Benefits Matrices

The following tables indicate the interactions between various WCAG 1.0 checkpoints and benefits related to market reach and technical efficiency.

skip tables

YES in a cell in the following tables indicates that we have included more information earlier in this document to describe the business benefit of the WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint. The YES cells are linked to the appropriate places in the earlier text.
Market Share Benefits of Accessible Web Site Design
Checkpoints Usability Public Search Engines Repurpose Internationalization Low Bandwidth Support low literacy Semantic Web Checkpoint Reference
Clear Navigation YES no no no YES YES no (13.4; 13.5)
Device independence no no YES no no no YES (9.x)
Clear Content YES YES no YES no YES YES (14.1; 14.3)
Text Alternatives YES YES no no YES no YES (1.1)
Metadata YES YES no no no no YES (13.2)
Separate Structure from Presentation no YES YES no YES no YES (3.3; 3.5; 3.6; 3.7; 11.2)
Captioning for Multimedia YES YES no YES no no no (1.3; 1.4)
Color Independence YES no YES no no no no (2.1; 2.2)
Table Attributes no YES no no no no no (5.5)
W3C Technologies no no YES no no no no (11.1)

Technical Efficiency Benefits of Accessible Web Site Design
Checkpoints Site Search Engine Repurpose Server Bandwidth Maintenance Server load Checkpoint Reference
Clear Navigation no no YES no YES (13.4; 13.5)
Device independence no YES no YES no (9.x)
Clear Content YES no no no no (14.1; 14.3)
Text Alternatives YES no YES YES YES (1.1)
Metadata YES no no no no (13.2)
Separate Structure from Presentation YES YES YES YES YES (3.3; 3.5; 3.6; 3.7; 11.2)
Captioning for multimedia YES no no no no (1.3; 1.4)
Color Independence no YES no no no (2.1; 2.2)
W3C technologies no no no YES no (11.1)


Alternative, linear version of tables.

Prepared by Andrew Arch ( and Chuck Letourneau ( with invaluable assistance from members of the EOWG.

Last Updated: 24 August 2001

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