How many people with disabilities use our site?

Published 05 December 2021 category: thoughts

When I talk to teams about web accessibility, often someone will ask how many people with disabilities use their site(s), or some variation of that question. It’s complicated, and other questions can be more helpful.

My standard answer usually includes that we can’t measure assistive technology usage for (good) privacy reasons, that our analytics won’t show customers that went to a more accessible competitor and that accessibility benefits everyone.

Accessibility ROI irrelevant (says… Apple!)

One other aspect though, let’s go into that straight away, is that looking for this data hints at trying to find return on investment. A counter question could be: what will we do with that data? Let’s say we get the number and deem it a very small percentage… whatever that is… equal access is still the right thing to aim for, it is still a human right and it is still required by law in most places. So, basically, our organisation has three good reasons to prioritise accessibility that exist regardless of a number of users with disabilities.

Or, as Apple CEO Tim Cook once told a shareholder:

When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI. When I think about doing the right thing, I don’t think about an ROI. If that’s a hard line for you, then you should get out of the stock.

(From: Apple’s Tim Cook gets feisty, funny and fiery at shareholders meeting, Los Angeles Times, 1 March 2014)

This makes sense for the web too. The web is all about accessibility, both of information and for end users.

Privacy trumps metrics

A web user’s need for privacy trumps our need for analytics. This is especially the case for people with disabilities, who rightly don’t want their disability to be one of your metrics. Standards organisations are careful not to add features to the Web Platform that allow such tracking, because it would invade individual user needs too much.

Your analytics don’t show market potential

Even if we could accurately measure how many people with disabilities used our site, it isn’t a very meaningful number. If our site is inaccessible to people who use voice control, chances are those people are shopping with our competitor instead. The reason they don’t show up in our numbers might be just that.

For the potential, we could look at the World Health Organisation’s Report on Disability, published in 2011. In a comprehensive chapter on demographics, they conclude 15-20% of the world’s population has a disability. These numbers aren’t exact, as countries have different methods of counting, but they give a reasonable estimate that we can work with.

Accessibility benefits everyone

Accessibility features on our site won’t benefit everyone all the time, that would be an exaggeration, but they often benefit many more people than just specific groups of people with disabilities. Dark mode is a feature some users need to avoid headaches or to read content, but many others still apply such settings, for a wide variety of reasons.

And it doesn’t just benefit a large parts of our user base, accessibility can also inspire innovation in our organisations. When an Italian inventor created the first typewriter for his blind friend, he invented a thing that is at the centre of what all of us do all day. Voice controlled software, audiobooks… the examples of things that were initially designed for people with disabilities but used by many more, are countless.

Conclusion

We probably don’t need to know how many people with disabilities use our sites, as regardless of what that number would be, we should want to build accessible sites, for many ethical, legal and business reasons.

Comments, likes & shares (98)

Chris Holt replied: This is fantastic.
Hidde replied: thanks, Chris!
miko replied:
YES! Got an inaccessible website? Then it's 0. They're all on your competitor's site. Terrible way to try and justify a11y work. Go tell your boss. "equal access is still the right thing to aim for, it is still a human right and it is still required by law in most places"
Timothy Wynn replied: I think the more important question should be, how much business could have been lost due to these kinds of barriers?
Deborah Edwards-Oñoro replied:
Accessible sites benefit everyone. #a11y #accessibility
Rian Rietveld replied:
How many people with disabilities use your site? The answer may surprise you...
Hidde replied:
I got a response from @BramDuvigneau and added a “Similar features” section covering the browser's mute and text resizing buttons. Maybe browsers need a ”I prefer reduced motion” button that shows when sites implement that condition for better visibility?
Jayne Cravens Coyote Communications replied:
"Three good reasons to prioritise accessibility that exist regardless of a number of users with disabilities." Terrific blog from Hidde de Vries (@hdv): hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1… #A11y #Inclusion
Jon Avila replied: How many people with disabilities use our site? hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
Catherine replied:
We've found measuring the size of user groups for our additional languages discovery really difficult As a maths grad this was uncomfortable at first But then we realised achieving equal access is something that doesn't need to be justified by numbers, it's the wrong approach
Unknown replied:
Frontend Dogma replied:
How Many People with Disabilities Use Our Site?, by @hdv: hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
Chris Xu replied: I have always been deeply suspicious of “accessibility metrics” as a concept, and now I can just send this handy blog post to thoroughly explain why: hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
Max Antonucci replied:
Great article on why tracking the number of folks with disabilities using a website has no effect on whether or not you should make it accessible (you should): hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1… via @hdv
Johnny Taylor replied:
"A web user’s need for privacy trumps our need for analytics. This is especially the case for people with disabilities, who rightly don’t want their disability to be one of your metrics." hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
Dr. Viviana Menzel replied:
"We probably don’t need to know how many people with disabilities use our sites, as regardless of what that number would be, we should want to build accessible sites, for many ethical, legal and business reasons." by @hdv on his blog: hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
Silvestar Bistrović 🤘 replied:
Hidde de Vries explains why we should always build accessible sites, no matter how many people with disabilities use them. Link: hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1… Title: How many people with disabilities use our site? Author: @hdv
Dennis Lembrée replied: "How many people with disabilities use our site?" hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1… #a11y #disability
TPGi replied: But... but... how many people with disabilities use our site? @hdv reflects on this sadly common question. hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
Digital Accessibility Luxembourg replied: How many people with disabilities use our site? by @hdv hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
CSS Basics replied: How many people with disabilities use our site? by @hdv hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
Manuel Matuzović replied:
“How many people with disabilities use our site?” by @hdv hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
L. Lamar Jordan (he/him) replied:
Great article. I get this question a few times a year. Good summary of the answers here… hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
Content Design London replied:
When teams about web accessibility, often someone will ask how many people with disabilities use their site(s), or some variation of that question. It’s complicated, and other questions can be more helpful. hiddedevries.nl/en/blog/2021-1…
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