How to Think About Accessibility During a "Tech Recession"?

December 5, 2022

It’s been hard to look away over the past months as Elon Musk has introduced some rapid changes to Twitter. Some are politically driven and others reflect the reality that it will be very difficult for Musk to recoup his $44 billion investment without finding ways to increase margins significantly. In particular, Twitter has reduced headcount by as much as 75% including the elimination of the entire team responsible for digital accessibility.

I’m reluctant to start this article with Twitter because there are such strong political opinions on both sides. (We of course have our own opinions on all of the drama but that’s mostly besides the point for this particular question.) And while many feel that leading Silicon Valley tech companies are overstaffed, Twitter has been extreme in both the scale and speed of its workforce reduction. But this ongoing story does raise the question of where accessibility fits in for companies attempting to adjust to the first real “tech recession” in almost 25 years. Our sources at digital agencies are seeing reduced spending by their clients and product companies can no longer rely on low-interest borrowing or easy venture capital investment.

In recent years, Twitter added a dedicated accessibility team and made real accessibility improvements to the product, including an ALT badge on tweet images, automatic reminders to add alt text images when tweeting, a closed captions toggle on videos, and automatic captioning in Spaces. These features are all still there, but users with disabilities are rightly concerned about what the future holds for their Twitter experience. It’s a shock to the system when one of the leaders in digital product accessibility writes off the entire initiative as a luxury cost-center it can’t afford.

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Can you afford to pause on accessibility in a recession?

Twitter is an extreme case though. Can it tell us anything about how most businesses should approach accessibility in this time of economic uncertainty in the tech world?

We would argue that accessibility is as important as ever. We don’t need to go into the full business case for accessibility. But suffice to say, the case for accessibility has not disappeared and may even be stronger. After all, are you willing to reduce your competitiveness with up to 25% of the market?

It’s also worth noting that accessibility lawsuits under the ADA may be countercyclical. There’s certainly nothing about a business slowdown that predicts a decrease in demand letters or lawsuits. It very well could be that potential plaintiffs are more likely to seek settlement income when the economy is soft.

Finding accessibility value

Most business, even large ones, don’t operate public facing technology at Twitter scale. And obviously, no one is suggesting that your small business should add a 10-person accessibility team. But there are ways to unlock the high value of accessibility without busting your budget. If you’re looking to produce a VPAT for federal procurement, it’s hard to avoid a full manual audit, but most businesses can find other ways to prioritize accessibility.

Prioritize usability and accessibility from the start

It’s a bit of a cliche, but the most cost effective way to be accessible is to design and build things that way from the start. Take care to plan for accessibility as a core feature, not an enhancement. Incorporating accessibility directly into your next redesign and rebuild should not significantly impact the project budget; if maintained properly, your site can remain accessible with minimal effort. Even if you are not planning a rebuild or replatform for a while, there are other opportunities to shift left when designing, developing, or authoring new pages, features, or functionality.

Phased approaches

Full accessibility is always our north star, but we have always argued that it’s better to think of becoming more accessible rather than viewing it as all-or-nothing compliance. Think about how you can achieve the highest accessibility impact for your investment including:

  • Start with automated testing like WAVE to address low hanging fruit and stay off the radar of surf-by plaintiffs
  • Test and remediate global elements like the header, navigation, footer, and forms for accessibility improvements on every page
  • Train your authors and editors to remediate content accessibility issues that can be fixed without writing a single line of code
  • If you audit, identify the most important pages as a starting point to minimize the cost of testing

Disabled Access Credit

Finally, for businesses of the right size, there is literally free money out there to become accessible. The Disabled Access Credit is available to small businesses with fewer than 30 full time employees (or less than $1 million in revenue). For qualifying businesses, you can recoup up to 50% of eligible accessibility expenses (up to $10,250). 

If you think creatively, there are ways you can further stretch the credit. For instance, on projects spanning two fiscal years, you may be able to claim the credit against more than $20K in expenses. And for businesses that adopt a “shift left” approach to accessibility, there may be opportunities to cross-subsidize other important objectives as part of accessibility-focused projects. (Standard disclaimer: we aren’t lawyers or accountants and encourage you to speak with tax professionals about how best to take advantage of the tax credit.)

You have to start somewhere

All other things being equal, more accessibility as fast as possible is ideal. But it’s important not to be daunted by what might appear to be a big project. Access Armada can help you develop a strategy for how to structure your accessibility journey and make a noticeable impact right away.

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