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Financial Factors in Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization
[DRAFT revision incorporating WCAG 2.0 and Older Users]

Editors Draft: 8 June 2009 [changelog; change-marked version]
Status: This document is a draft and should not be referenced or quoted under any circumstances. Please send comments to wai-eo-editors@w3.org (a publicly archived list). The current published version of this document is at www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/.

Page Contents


This page is part of a resource suite that describes the social, technical, financial, and legal and policy factors relevant to developing a customized business case for Web accessibility for a specific organization.

An organization's efforts to make its website accessible often have a financial impact, and can result in positive return on investment and cost efficiencies. Financial costs and benefits in developing accessible websites apply differently to specific organizations and situations. For example, costs related to Web accessibility are often lower when building a new site than when fixing an existing site, and sometimes complex sites are less costly to fix than simple sites because they use templates and content management systems (CMS).

This page provides guidance on addressing financial factors in a business case for Web accessibility.

Identifying Financial Factors for a Specific Organization

The following questions help identify how the financial aspects of Web accessibility apply to the organization:

See Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview for more information about the WCAG references below.

Increases Website Use

A major benefit of Web accessibility is the potential for direct and indirect financial gains from increased website use. Web accessibility can make it easier for people to find a website, access it, and use it successfully, thus resulting in increased audience (more users) and increased effectiveness (more use).

Many organizations benefit financially when more people successfully use their website; for example, commercial companies can get more sales, educational institutions can get more students, and non-profit organizations can get more funding by demonstrating successful outreach and dissemination. Increasingly, websites are used to cut costs by decreasing customer support services and letting customers complete transactions online rather than requiring personnel and paper interactions. The many examples of cost savings from online transactions include citizens renewing licenses; filing tax returns and making payments online; investors trading stock and monitoring their pension funds online; and students registering for classes and completing course work online. Thus, increased site use can result in financial gains and cost savings.

Increase in audience (website users) can result from the following benefits of Web accessibility:

Increases potential use by more people, expands potential market share
Accessible sites can be used by more people - including people with disabilities, older people, people with low literacy, people who are not fluent in the language of the site, people with low bandwidth connections to the Internet, people with older technologies, and new and infrequent web users, as discussed in Social Factors - thus increasing the market segments and number of people who can successfully use the site.
  • An important potential market for many organizations is older people. People are generally living longer and older people are an increasingly large percentage of web users.
  • Accessible websites are more usable to people who have temporary or permanent impairments due to accident, illness, or ageing.
  • When web use is a significant part of a job, intranets and web applications that are accessible can help with employee recruiting and retention.
  • People with disabilities and older people are particularly likely to be loyal customers of websites that work well for them. Furthermore, word-of-mouth or "viral marketing" can be significant among these groups.
Increases findability with search engine optimization (SEO)
Accessibility techniques increase the findability of web pages by exposing content to search engines, both internally (within a website) and externally (across the World Wide Web). For example:
  • Alternative text for images and multimedia is available to search engines
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.1.1, 1.2.1, 1.2.8; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 1.1)
  • Most search engines access text and not images
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.4.5, 1.4.9; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 3.1)
  • Some search engines give higher weight to text that is marked up as headings
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.3.1, 2.4.10; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 3.5)
  • Some search engines are unable to access some script-generated content such as mouse-overs
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 2.1.1)
Additional perspectives on the benefits of accessibility for SEO are available on the Web.

Increase in effectiveness (website use) can result from the following benefits of Web accessibility:

Increases potential use in more situations
Accessible sites can be used in more situations. websites that can be used by people with disabilities can also be used more easily by people without disabilities who are limited by their situation, such as:
  • in a noisy environment
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.4, 1.2.9; WCAG 1.0 checkpoints 1.1, 1.4)
  • using a small black-and-white display or a mobile device outdoors
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.4.1, 1.4.3, 1.4.4, 1.4.6; WCAG 1.0 checkpoints 2.1, 2.2)
  • low bandwidth
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.1.1, 1.2.8, 1.4.5, 1.4.9; WCAG 1.0 checkpoints 1.1, 3.1)
The Enable Content on Different Configurations section of Technical Factors describes how accessibility techniques help web pages work with different configurations. Situational limitations such as low bandwidth and older technology are discussed in Social Factors.
Increases usability
Accessible sites are generally more usable to everyone, including people with disabilities and people without disabilities. Increased usability means website users achieve their goals effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily. When users have a positive experience with a website, they are more likely to use the site more thoroughly, return to the site more often, and to tell others about the site ("viral marketing"). Some accessibility guidelines directly increase usability to all users, such as:
  • clear and consistent design, navigation, and links
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 2.4.2, 2.4.4, 2.4.5, 2.4.6, 2.4.9, 3.2.3, 3.2.4, guideline 3.3; WCAG 1.0 checkpoints 13.1, 13.3, 13.4, 13.5, 13.6, 13.7, 13.8, 14.3)
  • blocks of information divided into groups
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.3.1, 2.4.10; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 12.3)
  • clear and simple language as appropriate
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 3.1.5, 3.1.3; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 14.1)
  • supplemental illustrations
    (WCAG 2.0 guideline 3.1; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 14.2)
  • good color contrast
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.4.3, 1.4.6; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 2.2)
Other accessibility guidelines can indirectly increase usability, for example, by making web pages load faster, as discussed in the Access for People with Low Bandwidth Connections to the Internet and Older Technologies section of Social Factors.
Increases positive image
An organization's efforts in Web accessibility are a public relations opportunity to increase its positive image, which can increase website use. The Social Factors page discusses Web accessibility as a social issue and an aspect of corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR has been shown to improve financial performance, enhance brand image and reputation, increase sales and customer loyalty, increase ability to attract and retain employees, and provide access to capital and funding. Additional perspectives on CSR, such as statistics that show how CSR impacts customers, are available on the Web.

Direct Cost Savings

In addition to the benefits from increased website use discussed above, many organizations realize direct cost savings from improving Web accessibility.

Many of the aspects of Web accessibility that are discussed in Technical Factors can provide direct cost savings:

Potential direct costs savings also result from the following benefits of Web accessibility:
Decreases potential for high legal expenses
Ensuring that websites are accessible reduces the risk of high legal costs associated with defending against legal action for not complying with Web accessibility requirements. Legal and Policy Factors discusses policy considerations for different organizations.
Decreases cost of alternative format materials
For organizations that provided printed materials in alternate formats (large print, embossed braille, computer disk), an accessible website can reduce the demand for alternate formats when people chose to use the Web, thus saving some production and distribution costs.
Decreases cost of translating
The cost of translating a website to other languages can be decreased by following accessibility guidelines for:
  • clear and simple language as appropriate
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 3.1.5, 3.1.3; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 14.1)
  • styled text instead of bitmap images of text to convey information
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.4.5, 1.4.9; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 3.1)
  • separating content from presentation
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 1.3.1, 2.4.10; WCAG 1.0 checkpoint 3.3)
  • clear and consistent design, navigation, and links
    (WCAG 2.0 success criteria 2.4.2, 2.4.4, 2.4.5, 2.4.6, 2.4.9, 2.4.10, 3.1.5, 3.2.3, 3.2.4; WCAG 1.0 checkpoints 13.1, 13.3, 13.4, 13.5, 13.6, 13.7, 13.8, 14.3)
Decreases personnel costs
An accessible intranet and web applications can help an organization:
  • decrease training, support, and accommodation costs
  • help retain the valued expertise and experience of older employees as they develop age-related impairments
  • decrease the costs of recruiting and training new employees

Cost Considerations

When accessibility is incorporated from the beginning of website development it is often a small percentage of the overall website cost.

Initial Costs

When an organization starts incorporating accessibility, there are initial investments in acquiring knowledge, establishing processes, and increased development and testing time.

Personnel-related costs associated with an initial investment in accessibility can include:

Providing training and skills development
Providing training and skills development includes the cost of training and time away from other work. During skills development there is initially an increase in development and testing time because using new skills is often slower. In addition to training on direct accessibility issues, organizations that move to different technologies in an effort to improve accessibility might incur training costs on the new technologies.
Hiring expertise
Many organizations starting Web accessibility efforts hire consultants or employees with accessibility expertise, such as people with disabilities to help with testing.
Incorporating accessibility into procedures
Incorporating accessibility into protocols and procedures, such as quality assurance (QA) testing and usability evaluation, takes personnel time.
Assessing existing website accessibility
When fixing an existing site, assessing (auditing or evaluating) existing website accessibility is a common initial cost. The assessment cost is either a direct expense if using a service outside the organization, or a personnel cost if using internal resources. Making accessibility improvements in existing websites is almost always more costly in personnel time than incorporating accessibility during initial development or redesign.

Potential initial capital expenditures related to Web accessibility include:

Purchasing accessibility evaluation tools
Web accessibility evaluation tools are software or online services that help identify accessibility problems. While these are not a required expense, many organizations find that using accessibility evaluation tools saves time and money.
Purchasing assistive technologies
Some people with disabilities use assistive technologies to access the Web. Developers, designers, and evaluators sometimes use assistive technologies throughout the development process to understand how people interact with web pages and to test web pages. In many cases it is effective to use free assistive technologies for initial testing and to use people with disabilities for more thorough testing.
Upgrading technologies and tools
Sometimes organizations determine that it will be more efficient to implement accessibility with different technologies. For example, some organizations upgrade or change to a content management system (CMS) or other authoring tool that better supports production of accessible websites. (Selecting and Using Authoring Tools for Web Accessibility includes guidance on evaluating and selecting authoring tools.)

On-Going Costs

While most of the costs of Web accessibility are associated with initial accessibility efforts, there are some on-going costs to making websites accessible, including:

Additional development
Once an organization is experienced in accessibility, incorporating accessibility in a web project often adds negligible extra cost. However, for some types of accessible content additional development cost or time is required, for example providing transcripts for podcasts and captions for multimedia.
Additional testing
Organizations committed to providing usable, accessible sites will likely increase testing time. Accessibility testing activities include:
  • Testing design ideas and early prototypes with users with disabilities and older users, and with assistive technologies
  • Reviewing early prototypes and final web pages for conformance to accessibility standards and guidelines
  • Quality assurance testing of specific accessibility issues, such as checking for missing alternative text for images
The information in the WAI resource Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility can help in determining the potential costs of additional testing.

Decreasing Costs

There are several things organizations can do to decrease the cost of implementing accessibility, including the following:

Incorporating accessibility from the beginning
Incorporating accessibility from the beginning of a website development or redesign process is almost always significantly easier, less expensive, and more effective than making accessibility improvements to an existing site later as a separate project.
Sharing accessibility resources
Most costs associated with Web accessibility are investments at an organization level, rather than costs required for each web development project. In many organizations the initial costs can be shared among multiple projects, rather repeated for each project.
Using authoring tools that support accessibility
Using authoring tools, such content management systems (CMS), that support accessibility and meet Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) can help decrease the time and effort needed to make websites accessible.

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