The unbeatable business case for accessibility-first app development

by: | Mar 10, 2022

I’m a pragmatic guy. That’s just a part of my founder’s DNA.

So, when we consider potential opportunities — both for ArcTouch and for our clients — I always think first of the business case. Is the market opportunity (and user base) big enough to deliver a return on the investment it will take to meet that opportunity?

For years, accessibility features and experiences were seen as nice to have when it came to app development. Discussions with our clients usually would acknowledge that building accessible apps was the right thing to do. But, sadly, when it came down to it, it was sometimes difficult to justify the extra time and budget for including accessible features.

Today, however, the business case supports building accessible apps in almost every case. In fact, looking back, the way we were looking at accessibility was all wrong. The business case was probably always there. We just didn’t embrace it.

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The business case for accessibility-first app development

Remember back to the early days of mobile when web designers and developers were challenged to retrofit websites so they could work OK on mobile devices? Eventually, as mobile became ubiquitous, our industry realized that a website renovation approach wasn’t working. It made more sense to completely rebuild websites with a mobile-centric approach right from the start. This became known as a mobile-first mindset. The idea was that it is better to build first for the small screen of mobile devices, then add additional layers of information for the desktop browsing experience.

“Making your app accessible is not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do, for your business and for your users.”

There was an unexpected benefit to this approach. By focussing on mobile-first, we actually improved the website design for desktop users, too. The smaller design canvas of mobile devices forced us to be more thoughtful in our UX and UI choices, which led to a more streamlined user experience across all devices, regardless of the screen size.

There are some parallels here with accessibility. In a recent digital accessibility webcast, Forrester Research analyst Gina Bhawalkar referred to the “curb-cut effect” of digital accessibility. She explained, “Although the original motivation for curb cuts was to help war veterans in wheelchairs transition smoothly from street crossings to sidewalks, curb cuts made life better for others, too — like children on tricycles, caregivers pushing strollers, and people temporarily on crutches.”

Implementing accessibility features in apps — such as font-scaling and voice annotations for screen readers — benefits all app users. While some users depend on accessibility features all the time, other users may indirectly benefit from these features too, at least some of the time. Forrester estimates that the number of these indirect beneficiaries of digital accessibility features may far exceed those with disabilities.

Forrester Research global market opportunity for accessible apps and digital products

SOURCE: “How To Scale Digital Accessibility,” Forrester.

When Forrester calculates the market size for accessibility, they define the base audience as people with disabilities at 1 billion. They add the aging population and children, those whose senses may be developing or declining, at 700 million. They added the friends and family of aging and those with disabilities, another 2.4 billion people. And finally, everyone else in the world benefits from the curb-cut effect.

So, while determining the dollar value of accessibility may be nuanced and difficult, figuring out the total addressable market (TAM) for accessible app users is easy. It’s literally everyone.

Put another way, there’s no subsegment of app users to consider when deciding whether to make your app accessible. All users can benefit from the thoughtful UX and UI choices that go into an accessibility-first app development approach.

What accessibility-first app development looks like

Building truly accessible apps isn’t as simple as supporting the built-in accessibility features in iOS and Android. As ArcTouch UX/UI designer Barbara Fontenelle writes in her 7 best practices for accessible app design, supporting accessible features shouldn’t be an afterthought.

“Accessibility is not a step of a project,” Barbara wrote. “It is a mindset that guides you through every single thing you do.”

An accessible-first app development approach starts during app strategy — and then continues through every phase of the project — through design, development, and QA. Accessibility becomes a core project requirement and one of the success metrics that all the teams align behind. You can learn more about this by downloading our free app accessibility checklist.

Accessible-first app design and development doesn’t come for free. For the minimum lovable product (version 1 of an app), we advise our clients to plan for accessibility by either adding up to 20% budget to support accessibility — or reducing the scope of their features by 20%. What we never recommend is to put accessibility on the roadmap for later. It’s faster and less money to develop for accessibility in the initial release than it is to add it later.

Accessible-first app development requires a real commitment from all stakeholders on a project. Only then can you deliver a truly lovable — and inclusive — user experience. Our recent work with Magellan Health is a great example of this — everyone on the project agreed from day one to design and build the Magellan Rx app to be completely accessible.

How accessibility-first app development fits with DEI

There’s another reason building accessible apps is the right thing to do: being consistent with your workplace culture and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusivity) initiatives. As our own business has matured, ArcTouch’s commitment to having a diverse and inclusive workplace has deepened. We want a workplace where people of all backgrounds can thrive, where kindness matters, and where creativity and ideas flow freely. We are, at our core, a creative agency — and we rely on the wide-ranging ideas from our very diverse team to solve the digital challenges of our clients.

I believe our company’s focus on DEI also means building more inclusive digital experiences. Accessible apps, by definition, are more inclusive. In fact, user experience pioneers Nielsen Norman group refer to this as an inclusive design approach. And this is more consistent with the values we believe in internally.

Join us: Let’s build more accessible apps and digital experiences

I truly believe our industry is at a crossroads. Forrester projects $10 billion in design spending will shift to tech vendors and services companies that commit to accessibility. I think they’re right. We’ve reached that tipping point where there really isn’t a good argument for not creating accessible apps. It’s time for our industry to embrace accessibility-first app development.

At ArcTouch, we might still face discussions with potential clients with the belief that digital accessibility “just comes for free from Apple and Google” or can’t be justified with the budget we have. But, in our view, it’s no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.

People who hire us to develop their apps look to us for expertise. And there are a few things that we believe are must-haves in your apps. You need to protect your user’s privacy and secure their personal data. You need to test your app thoroughly throughout the project. And now more than ever, you need to use an accessibility-first approach to app development.

It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do, for your business and for your users.

Contact us to learn more about our accessible product design and development services.