The Shocking Shortcomings of the Fortune 500 When it Comes to Web Accessibility
As marketers, we look to the Fortune 500 companies as models of excellence for leadership, branding and best practices. Between their abundant budgets, top dollar talent, and expansive teams, they provide inspiration for the rest of us who can only dream about what we’d do with umpteen millions of dollars to spend on marketing initiatives.
That’s why when we decided to look at how the websites of the Fortune 500 stack up around web accessibility, we were surprised by the findings. We figured that with a combination of vast resources, dominant market share and well-policed corporate citizenship practices, they’d achieve highly favorable scores. But, in most cases, that’s not what we found.
Before we go any further, let’s establish what web accessibility is. Most people are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990. The ADA guarantees that people with mental or physical disabilities have equal access to participating in “the mainstream of American life.” That’s why brick-and-mortar businesses are generally required to provide a path of travel to restrooms that is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs.
Web accessibility is essentially the same thing, except that it applies to websites. Because consumers rely on the internet to conduct countless aspects of daily life, countries around the world are establishing and to some degree enforcing a series of guidelines that govern the accessibility of website content and functionality by all users, including those with disabilities. For example, making sure any user can access video content, research a product’s specifications, or perform an online transaction, such as ordering a pizza or purchasing a pair of shoes.
Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is made up of a set of standards to be followed by developers and content authors to provide equal access to all facets of a website.
In February of this year we conducted a web accessibility study (using the Crownpeak Digital Quality Management solution) of the world’s most influential brands to create benchmarks that our customers (many of which are also Fortune 500 companies) could aspire to achieve.
We set up dashboards for 27 of the top 30 Fortune 500 companies, covering a range of industries. The following companies were included in our analysis:
- Fannie Mae
- Walgreens Boots Alliance
- General Motors
- JP Morgan Chase
- Bank of America
- Express Scripts Holding
- UnitedHealth Group
- CVS Health
- Berkshire Hathaway
- Home Depot
- Cardinal Health
- Exxon Mobil
- Phillips 66
- Ford Motor
To get a representative sample, we looked at a maximum of 500 pages per website (companies of this scope generally have thousands of web pages). Our goal was to see how their sites fared when compared to the accessibility standards outlined by WCAG 2.0 A and AA.
During our analysis, we measured 45 accessibility checkpoints, which we used to derive an accessibility benchmarking score for each company.
Out of respect for the companies we researched, we decided against publishing the details of any single organization’s scores. We did however, group the companies by industry in order to develop some insightful findings.
Websites in the financial services industry performed the best with a 5.8 out of 10 on the accessibility scale. It’s not hard to see why: an aging population that is experiencing declining eyesight makes up a significant portion of their audience. The need to view account balances, make withdrawals and check their transaction history is critical to retaining their loyalty. Of course, there’s also the potentially irreparable cost of injuring their reputation if accessibility problems did occur.
Although we expected companies within the financial services industry to score higher, with job titles like “Accessibility Web Developer” and “Head of Accessibility” or “Accessibility Lead”, the industry clearly understands the risks and rewards of removing barriers to access.
Websites that make up the retail sector scored the worst in our research, coming in at a disappointing 3.3 out of 10. Given the consumer-facing nature of their business, it’s confounding that they are potentially preventing one-fifth of the population (according to the World Health Organization) from accessing aspects of their content or website functionality.
With an 18% increase in ADA Title III lawsuits in federal courts during the first few months of 2017, many of them focused on retail organizations, we expect they’re beginning to pay attention.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) recommend that content be resizable without assistive technology up to 200%. That’s because for users with poor vision (or those in unfavorable conditions like bright sunlight), it is important that text size can be increased, especially when it comes to mobile, which is where pinch and zoom functionality is commonly utilized.
Given Google has been clear that mobile usability is playing an increasing role in search engine optimization, we were dumbfounded to learn that 16 out of 27 sites tested (55% of sites) had pinch zoom disabled on pages tested.
So what do our findings tell us and how can we learn from them? Well for starters, we can’t ever presume that just because a company has deep pockets (like the Fortune 500 do), that they’re doing the right thing, or even aware of what the right thing is.
The other perhaps larger takeaway is that besides avoiding financial penalties, companies that make accessibility a priority can grow their audience and steal market share from companies that haven’t made servicing those with disabilities a priority.
According to the US Department of labor, the disabled market has $174 billion in discretionary spending. In the UK, the estimated annual purchasing power of people with disabilities is £80 billion, according to a 2005 study.
Another staggering statistic that multiplies the potential upside? At age 50, adults begin to experience age-related physical changes that may affect hearing, vision, cognition, and mobility. These aging adults were in their twenties when the internet entered the mainstream, so they’re far from technophobes. They’ve been online for twenty-five years. We can be confident they’re savvy enough to find (and support) the websites that accommodate their needs, rather than settling for ones that don’t.
Interested in learning more? Check out the webinar we produced earlier this year titled, “Improving the Quality of Your Website: Learning Lessons from Fortune 500 Companies”.