In 2024, having an accessible website should no longer be an exception – it should be the rule. With over 4 million people in Australia living with some form of disability, ensuring equal digital access for all users is a legal and ethical obligation.
Beyond meeting anti-discrimination legislation, there are compelling moral, commercial and social reasons why all websites should meet minimum accessibility standards as outlined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of recommendations published by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) for making web content accessible, primarily for people with disabilities. They define three levels of conformance – A, AA, and AAA – with A being minimum conformance to make content usable and AAA being the highest level of conformance to address the widest range of disabilities. WCAG provides guidelines for making content clear, easy to understand, and easy to interact with for users with diverse abilities using various web technologies.
Whilst WCAG focuses on the technical side of website accessibility, it doesn’t necessarily describe why it is so important in 2024.
The Moral Imperative
Fundamentally, accessibility is about social justice. Excluding groups from accessing information or services goes against principles of equal opportunity and human rights.
With digital connectivity embedded in everything from education to employment, purchasing products to using public services, lack of web accessibility severely disadvantages people with disabilities. It limits their ability to participate fully in society.
By making inclusive design the norm in 2024, we create a fairer online landscape that enables people of all abilities to benefit from the digital revolution.
The Legal Obligation
In Australia, disability discrimination laws require websites to provide equal access, just like physical premises. Various judgements have established website owners’ duty to make content available, usable and understandable for people with diverse sensory, mobility and cognitive function.
With the Disability Discrimination Commissioner actively investigating accessibility complaints, no online business can plead ignorance. Building inclusiveness into sites from the start is the best way of avoiding legal disputes down the track.
The Commercial Gain
An accessible website doesn’t just allow more people to use it – it enhances the user experience for everyone. Features like text alternatives for images, captions for audio content and keyboard navigation ultimately create a better platform that’s easier to use for all visitors.
With enhanced findability, site navigation and conversion rates, accessibility quickly pays tangible dividends. What’s more, search engines like Google prioritise pages optimised for accessibility in rankings. So improving access drives more traffic from organic searches.
The Reputational Benefit
Today’s consumers have high expectations of corporate social responsibility and ethical business practices. Brands making digital access hard for people with disabilities face being publically named and shamed.
Contrastingly, visible commitment to inclusion and diversity boosts public trust in companies. Promoting accessibility builds brand reputation and loyalty among an expanded customer base.
Simply put, excluding anyone can negatively affect credibility, while championing the rights of people with disabilities wins consumer hearts and minds.
The Social Progress
Conceptually, the world wide web represents openness, flexibility and freedom to access information. By excluding a key demographic, we risk undermining the original democratic vision for the internet.
Embracing the social model of disability – where societal barriers prevent equal participation – is key to unlocking real progress. Accessibility, at its core, is about identifying and dismantling the barriers that prevent people with disabilities fully contributing to society.
With the web now intrinsic to modern life, ensuring equal accessibility accelerates social empowerment and independence for millions. And that benefits us all.
The Way Forward
The voluntary model of web accessibility has ultimately proven inadequate. Too many businesses continue to provide digital services unaware that their websites lock people out – or simply lack the motivation to implement inclusion.
That’s why legislation and web standards have proved to be the most effective route to mass adoption of accessible design in jurisdictions like the USA and Europe.
However Australia still lacks comprehensive web accessibility regulations and enforcement.
The onus remains on industry to self-regulate proactively, rather than risk downstream legal consequences and backlash.
With mature international standards – like WCAG 2.1 – specifying the technical criteria for accessibility, website owners must step up and implement them by default.
At Beleaf, every project we design and build has conscious accessibility baked in. That means we consider, design, build, and test for accessibility at every stage of the process. It’s not a project add-on, or an additional charge, it’s just what we do as standard.