When I speak with companies that are new to digital accessibility, they almost always start the conversation with some version of this question:

“What do we need to do to comply with accessibility standards so we don’t get sued?”

They’re right to ask, because web accessibility lawsuits are proliferating — there were over 2,000 in the US last year — but there’s a lot more at stake than lawsuits. The most valuable benefits of making your products and services more accessible? Accessing new markets and creating innovations that end up benefiting all customers (see my report “The Billion-Customer Opportunity: Digital Accessibility” about these).

So what should you do?

Tap People With Disabilities During The Design Process

As Kat Holmes, author of Mismatch, points out, “Inclusion has to include people who have experienced exclusion.” And when I speak with companies with effective accessibility programs such as Microsoft, Aetna, Adobe, U.S. Bank, and Salesforce, one of the most significant things I see they have in common is this: They include people with disabilities in the design process — either by hiring them within the design team itself or recruiting them to participate in research or both.

You may be thinking, “Easier said than done! How do I recruit these people? And will the investment yield insights beyond what I’d get if I just recruited without seeking out variations in abilities?”

To illustrate the types of insights a company can uncover by conducting research with people with disabilities, we drank our own Kool-Aid: We interviewed 12 people with vision, hearing, motor, or cognitive disabilities to understand their top frustrations when using websites and mobile apps and learn what makes a great experience for them. (We’re grateful for the help we got in doing this from a nonprofit organization called Knowbility that helps companies with this type of recruiting.)

Our research uncovered five best practices that can help you grow your market by letting in customers with disabilities and removing friction in the experience for everyone, such as:

  • Minimize the amount of information customers must process at once.
  • Provide content in multiple modalities.
  • Right-size the effort required to activate and interact with UI controls.

To learn about these three best practices, the two others, and the stories of some of the people whose stories we heard, check out my new report, “Get Accessibility Right: Recruit People With Disabilities Into The Design Process.”

Are you engaging people with disabilities in your design process? I’d love to hear from you! Reach out to me on LinkedIn.