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Abstract

Despite the prominence of the World Wide Web in people’s everyday lives, most Web presences in private sector organizations still fail to comply with contemporary accessibility standards. As a consequence, a large group of users—i.e., people with impairments—are excluded from accessing these Web presences. In order to explain the managerial rationale, an exploratory case study was conducted in three industry sectors. The results of the analysis shed light on organizations’ motivations to implement or reject Web accessibility standards, reveal positive and negative consequences of implementation, and provide in-depth insights into the determinants for successful and unsuccessful Web accessibility implementation. This study supports organizations in making better decisions on the implementation of Web accessibility.
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
1
Post-print version
Leitner, M., Strauss, C. & Stummer, C. Web accessibility implementation in
private sector organizations: motivations and business impact. Univ Access Inf
Soc 15, 249–260 (2016).
DOI 10.1007/s10209-014-0380-1
This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in
"Universal Access in the Information Society". The final authenticated version is
available online at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-014-0380-1
Web accessibility implementation in private
sector organizations: Motivations and
business impact
Marie-Luise Leitner
University of Vienna, Department of Business Studies
Oskar-Morgenstern-Platz 1, A-1090 Vienna, Austria
marie-luise.leitner@univie.ac.at
Christine Strauss
University of Vienna, Department of Business Studies
Oskar-Morgenstern-Platz 1, A-1090 Vienna, Austria
christine.strauss@univie.ac.at
Christian Stummer
Bielefeld University, Department of Business Administration and Economics
Universitaetsstr. 25, D-33615 Bielefeld, Germany
christian.stummer@uni-bielefeld.de
Abstract. Despite the prominence of the World Wide Web in people’s everyday lives, most web
presences in private sector organizations still fail to comply with contemporary accessibility
standards. As a consequence, a large group of users i.e., people with impairments is excluded
from accessing these web presences. In order to explain the managerial rationale, an exploratory
case study was conducted in three industry sectors. The results of the analysis shed light on
organizations’ motivations to implement or reject web accessibility standards, reveal positive and
negative consequences of implementation, and provide in-depth insights into the determinants for
successful and unsuccessful web accessibility implementation. This study supports organizations in
making better decisions on the implementation of web accessibility.
Keywords web accessibility implementation, private sector organizations, business impact, case
study research
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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1. Introduction
Since the emergence of Web 2.0, Information and Communication Technology
(ICT) captures a vital part in the life of many people, and may improve personal
autonomy and quality of life. Worldwide, almost every third person has Internet
access; in the European Union (EU), the Internet penetration rate was 73% in
2012 [53]. Although the World Wide Web has become an indispensable source of
information and services, the Internet’s universal accessibility has not been
realized to date. People with motor, cognitive, visual, or auditory impairments
require not only assistive devices (e.g., screen readers, Braille displays) but also
proper, i.e., accessible, websites. Thus, the Internet – originally based on the idea
of offering equal opportunities to each and everybody – has emerged as a medium
for the creation of digital divide as it excludes large groups of users.
In many European countries, legal regulations stipulate that public organizations’
websites have to be accessible (cf., on the example of Austria, the Austrian e-
Government Act). Despite various efforts to raise awareness for web accessibility,
implementation of accessibility in private sector organizations seems to be still in
its infancy. Apparently, mere social drivers do not suffice for private
organizations to provide accessible websites, but need to be accompanied by
evidence for potential (positive) business impacts.
The study at hand therefore addresses web accessibility implementation issues
from a business perspective (i.e., motivations, business impacts, reasons for
success or failure) in the Business-To-Consumer (B2C) segment on the example
of three industry sectors in Austria. This work provides detailed insights into
private sector organizations’ rationale to implement (or not to implement) web
accessibility.
The remainder of this paper proceeds as follows: Section 2 outlines the current
state of research in the field of web accessibility. Section 3 then describes the
design of the exploratory case study research approach. Next, findings of the
study are presented and discussed in Section 4. Finally, the paper concludes with a
summary and an outlook to further research in Section 5.
2. Background
The notion of web accessibility has existed for over a decade and generally means
“that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web” [49]. In the EU at least
one out of every six citizens between the age of 16 and 64 is assumed to have
some long standing health problem or disability [12]. Note that people with
impairments may be even more dependent on using the Internet as the main
source of information, because alternative sources, like printed information or
personal advice, may be difficult or even impossible to access.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed numerous guidelines
and techniques for accessible websites. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
2.0 (WCAG 2.0) contain testable criteria for the development of accessible
website information (e.g., text, image, forms, sounds). Moreover, guidelines for
accessible user agents (e.g., web browsers, media players) or authoring tools
(software for website creation) were issued by the W3C. Following these
guidelines should ensure accessibility to a large extent and also contribute largely
to the quality of a website (including user agents and authoring tools).
An alternative for boosting website quality is to increase its usability, so that
“specified users can achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and
satisfaction in a specified context of use” [18]. Usability and accessibility are
closely interrelated. Petrie and Kheir summarize different attempts to confine
usability and accessibility, e.g. usability to be treated as a subset of accessibility;
or accessibility to be considered as a subset of usability [38]. In many cases, an
improvement in one of the two concepts may lead to an enhancement of the other
(e.g., high color contrast, well-structured text). Still, usable sites will not
necessarily be fully accessible and vice versa – both concepts are distinct and need
to be considered equally in the web development process.
Over the years, web accessibility has become a research field for a number of
scientific disciplines. In computer science, this is well documented by works on
web accessibility evaluation (e.g., [8], [14], [16], [26], [45]), the development of
evaluation tools and methods (e.g., [3], [24], [35]), and human computer
interaction (e.g., [19]) as well as usability (e.g., [32], [37]). Web accessibility also
plays a role in law concerning legal regulations on national level regarding
accessible design of websites
1
. In education and pedagogy, Ortner and
1
The German speaking countries (i.e., Austria, Germany, and Switzerland) all have issued an Equalization Act
from 2002 to 2006. Further examples are Ireland’s Disability Act 2005, Italy‘s Stanca Acts 2004 and 2013,
or the UK Equality Act 2010.
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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Miesenberger [34], and Matausch et al. [27] develop curricula for web
accessibility in higher education, and Johnson and Ruppert [21] create accessible
learning environments for students. Finally, in the area of ethics, web accessibility
takes over a major part, dealing with social responsibility, e-inclusion and human
rights issues (e.g., [9]).
In business administration or management science, however, the issue of web
accessibility has gained little attention to date. Previous research widely focused
on theoretical models for benefit analysis [39] and cost-benefit scenarios [10],
[17], though lacked empirical foundation. Experiences of organizations with web
accessibility implementation, however, have not been investigated so far. This is
remarkable, because – in addition to some legal compulsion being already enacted
(in Austria, most prominently by the Austrian Equalization Act [2]) – future
business opportunities provide a propelling argument for an implementation of
web accessibility in private sector organizations. Note that the increasing number
of mobile device internet users (cf., e.g., [52]) are facing similar barriers (e.g.,
they rarely use a mouse device) [50]. The same holds for elderly people with age-
related conditions, being comparable to those experienced by the disabled (e.g.,
vision impairments, hearing loss, motor skill diminishment)
2
. Given that the
Internet-accustomed population in developed countries is aging rapidly (e.g., the
EU estimates that by 2050, 29.3% of the EU population will be older than 65
years [48]), the increase in size of this target group will be enormous. This
development and the relevance of the Web channel in many industries (cf., e.g.,
[51]), will make accessibility of (corporate) websites extraordinarily relevant from
an economic point of view.
The bottom line is that organizations with accessible websites may profit at least
in two ways. Firstly, they reduce the risk of negative image impact as well as
penalties as a result of arbitration processes. Secondly, and more importantly, they
will be able to significantly enlarge their customer group as their websites are
accessible to people with disabilities, mobile device users, and elderly people.
2
In spite of similarities in limitations, there are still differences between elderly people and young disabled
people in coping with these limitations as the elderly may have limited opportunities to learn to compensate.
For a rich discussion on web accessibility for older users see a special issue in the Universal Access in the
Information Society Journal [4].
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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3. Research design
Guidelines by Eisenhardt [7] and Yin [54] were followed and an embedded,
multiple case study design was set up, for which organizations in the B2C
segment of three industry sectors, namely tourism, financial services, and
information services were selected. Thus, these sectors were chosen as they (i)
have high relevance in electronic business, and (ii) include day-to-day operations
that provide facilitations for people with disabilities when performed online.
In each of the three sectors, a three-step accessibility evaluation was performed in
order to screen the sector for its accessibility level. In the first step, the
organizations to be screened were selected. In this step research was based on data
from the Austrian platform for accessible tourism (for the tourism sector),
Austrian Commercial Register data (for the financial services sector), and a study
conducted by the Austrian Web Analysis (for the information services sector),
and, thus, identified 89 candidate websites
3
. In the second step, the Total Validator
Tool was used for an automated web accessibility evaluation based on a randomly
selected sample of three webpages from each website. This freeware tool checks
the source code for web accessibility errors based on the WCAG 2.0, and provides
a report with errors and warnings in various categories (e.g., accessibility, parsing,
mark-up). For websites where no accessibility errors
4
have been reported, a third
step was performed, based on the Lynx browser and the Firefox Web Developer
Toolbar for manual accessibility checks
5
.
This resulted to one sample of accessible websites
6
that have passed automated as
well as manual tests and another sample of inaccessible websites for each sector.
From these two groups twelve organizations were randomly selected in
accordance with literature on case study research suggesting at least four cases for
sound research results [7].
3
Two non-Austrian banking institutions have been added to supplement the evaluation. Both institutions have
been BIENE award winners (German web accessibility award).
4
Errors in other categories were not taken into account for this evaluation.
5
Manual accessibility checks are crucial as some errors may not be detected automatically (e.g., inappropriate
alt-attributes).
6
Although being aware that there is no accessible system per se, but just more or less accessible systems, for
the sake of selection of firms to be approached in order to interview managers a website was considered to be
(sufficiently) accessible once it has passed the automated as well as the manual tests.
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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Then, managers were approached in these organizations who were involved in the
accessibility implementation process (in firms from the successful implementation
sample) or managers who would have been responsible for web accessibility
implementation (in firms from the failed implementation sample) for semi-
structured interviews. The organizations’ industry branch, the country of origin,
(rounded) number of employees, the function of the interviewee in the
organization, and the outcome (success or failure) of accessibility implementation
are summarized in Table 1.
Table 1: Organizations and interviewees
The interviews lasted between 45 and 90 minutes, were audiotaped and
transcribed verbatim. Eight of the twelve interviews have been conducted by the
leading author of this paper; two trained researchers performed the remaining four
interviews. Interviewees were informed beforehand (by e-mail or telephone) about
the interview’s topic; anonymity for the participants and their organizations was
agreed on. Interviewers were provided with a brief guideline with the most
relevant topics in order to ensure comparability across cases [28]. However,
interviews were guided by the interviewees in order to minimize interviewer-
induced bias. Thus, the interviewers only asked questions just in case of breaks in
the conversation.
The data were interpreted and analyzed following the grounded theory method
[11]. In total, 646 interview minutes (10.8 hours) were transcribed which resulted
in a total amount of 181 transcription pages, single spaced font size 11. When
analyzing the interviews, two researchers went iteratively back and forth in data
Industry
Country
Employees
Function
Implementation
Financial Services
Germany
21000
Project manager IT
Successful
Financial Services
Switzerland
47800
Project manager
Successful
Financial Services
Austria
5000
Content manager
Successful
Financial Services
Austria
5000
Member of general secretariat
Failed
Financial Services
Austria
63000
Project manager IT
Failed
Financial Services
Austria
140
Content manager
Failed
Information Services
Austria
7
Marketing manager
Successful
Information Services
Austria
51
Technical manager
Successful
Information Services
Austria
9
Director
Successful
Information Services
Austria
12
Director
Failed
Tourism
Austria
19
Marketing manager
Successful
Tourism
Austria
140
Director
Failed
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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for the identification of common themes, subsequently developed categories, and,
finally, relationships between categories. Open and axial coding procedures were
applied for this purpose [46]. Moreover, the authors focused only on patterns that
often reappeared in the data in order to attain saturation
7
. Overall, both
quantitative and qualitative data were considered (for an overview see Table 2).
Table 2: Data sources
Company - specific data used for this case study included information about
organizations interviewed (e.g., annual reports). In addition, interviewers took
notes during each interview, and post meeting notes were taken after discussing
each sector’s interviews. Sector - specific information used for this case study
included quantitative website evaluation, general industry information, and
information about the accessibility in the three industries.
4. Findings
4.1 Web accessibility evaluations
In total, 12% of the analyzed websites passed the accessibility evaluation while
the vast majority failed (cf. Table 3). This result underlines the original
assumption of low accessibility in private sector websites, particularly when
compared to websites in the Austrian public sector
8
.
7
A minimum number of twelve interviews is recommended for attaining data saturation in purposive samples
[13].
8
An Austrian study on the accessibility of public web sites showed that 94% out of 68 tested sites fulfilled the
WCAG A criteria [23].
Type of
information
Type of evidenc e Tour is m
Fin anc ia l
Services
Inf orma ti on
Services
Data type
company
specific
In-d epth int erviews 2 6 4 qualitative
company
specific
Pers ona l do cumentat ion (in terviewer's no tes, meetin g note s) 3 7 5 qualitative
company
specific
Info rma tion a bout organ izatio ns int erviewed (annu al repo rts, web site,
press releases, Austrian W eb Analys is data, Commercial Register data)
514 10
qualitative/
quantitative
sector
specific
Quan titat ive web site evalu ation 52 19 18 quantitative
sector
specific
Ind ustry informatio n (Inte rnet, b rochu res, res earch ) 10 6 3 qualitative
sector
specific
Accessibility in the three industries (Internet, reports, studies, audiofiles) 16 3 7 qualitative
Total number of docume nts us ed 88 55 47
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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Table 3: Results of website evaluations
Most common errors on the tested websites are HTML markup mistakes (71% in
the tourism sector, 79% in the financial services sector, 94% in the information
sector). A reason for this high number of markup mistakes may be found in the
tolerance of modern graphical browsers that tend to “pardon” markup errors and
still display the text correctly. This is not the case with text-only browsers (e.g.,
Lynx), Braille displays, or screen readers. The analysis revealed recurrent
accessibility errors (e.g., missing alt-attributes, the usage of unlabeled frames or
flash, the usage of JavaScript in an inaccessible way). Note that passing this
evaluation is not to be misinterpreted as a proof of full accessibility of the site
since no elaborate methodologies of accessibility evaluation (e.g., Unified Web
Evaluation Methodology) have been applied; these sites therefore can be
categorized as “being on the right way” toward accessibility. The application of a
more detailed evaluation method may have revealed further shortcomings in
accessibility.
The results of the website evaluation show a low web accessibility
implementation rate in the three sectors under review; only a minority of
organizations has successfully implemented web accessibility. These results lead
to the assumption that there might be issues that hamper accessibility
implementation. Moreover, a comparison of this website evaluation with a study
on public websites in Austria (cf., [23]) showing reverse results, justifies further
in-depth examination of this current state.
4.2 Motivations for web accessibility implementation
Motives in the three investigated sectors can roughly be classified in economic,
social, and technical motivations. Table 4 provides an introductory overview of
motivations and reasons for implementation of accessible websites and a selection
of underpinning quotations.
Table 4: Motivations for web accessibility implementation
abs. rel. abs. rel. abs. rel. abs . rel.
52 100% 19 100% 18 100% 89 100%
Failed aut omate d t es ts 45 87% 15 79% 14 78% 74 83%
Failed manual tes ts 48% 00% 00% 44%
Pass ed all tests 3 6% 421% 422% 11 12%
Tour is m
Fi nanc i al Se rvi ce s
Inf orm ati on S er vic es
Total
Page s ch ecked
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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Firstly, the implementation of web accessibility in an organization can be initiated
out of economic motivations. In this case, organizations focus on customer
satisfaction and implement an accessible website mainly as a means to increase
turnover, image, and customer base. Organizations with Internet presence (“click
and mortar” companies with an additional offline presence as well as straight
online companies) face the problem of lower switching costs for customers
compared to traditional (“brick and mortar”) companies. Accordingly, the
importance of customer satisfaction and loyalty increases tremendously [5]. At the
same time and for similar reasons, competition and, thus, the need for
differentiation becomes more important. Web accessibility implementation may
provoke competitive advantage due to differentiation from direct competitors.
One interviewee, for example, forthrightly stated that “[we] tried to be the first to
implement accessibility in order to be different from our competitors”.
The ongoing demographic shift and the increasing share of elderly people using
the Internet constitute further economic motivations for web accessibility
implementation. An interviewee recorded that “[the] usage of our website by
elderly people is higher than average”. Elderly people are a rapidly growing
segment of the Internet economy [47] with significant purchasing power [42], and
may have mobility limitations similar to people with disabilities. An interviewee
took up this issue when stating “[the] wealthy customers are the elderly; they
have the money”. Thus, for organizations with accessible web presences elderly
people apparently constitute an additional customer group.
Motivation Reasons for imple men tation Sector Selected quotation
Differentiation F
"We tried to be the first to implement accessibility in order to be different
from our competitors".
Elderly Cust omers F,I "Our website is being used by elderly people abov e average".
Fear of negative image F " We cannot afford negative headlines".
Importance of website T
"Every guest will see our web page first, judge it, and then decide if he
wants to come or not".
Consumer consciousness F
"Ethical criteria are more and more being included in the purchase
decision proces s" .
Design for all T,F
"Our main reason was 's imple and for all'; the simpler the better and the
more customers will understand and buy the product".
Key p ersonality T,F,I
"The technical department colleague's girlfriend has a hearing
impairment; he had first suggestions about the issue".
Social commitment T,F,I
"We have always had awareness for social issues. In this case,
implementation of web accessibility is easier; when the awareness
already exists".
Top management sup port F
"We had the advantage that one member of the management board was
150% web affine; this made it easier to convince him".
Technical Website quality T,I
"Nobody was satisfied with the old website. It did not look good, did not
work satisfyingly, and did not have enough traffic".
Economic
Social
T=tourism, F=financial services, I=information services
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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Potential image improvement through web accessibility may be another major
motivation for organizations. This aspect is closely related to the differentiation
aspect and also has a strong link to social reasons for web accessibility
implementation (e.g., social commitment). The way in which an organization is
perceived by its customers influences customer loyalty which is, in turn, strongly
related to a firm’s profitability [41]. On the other hand, negative publicity can
seriously harm corporate image [6]. An interviewee pointed out that they wanted
to “avoid a headline such as ‘This financial services institution does not care
about the elderly’”. From psychology can be learned that during evaluation of
people, objects, and ideas, more weight is put on negative than on positive
information [29] and that this effect is more likely to emerge when consumers are
highly involved with the product category [1]. This may be the case especially in
the tourism sector in which the customer perception of the website (and its
accessibility among other features) is decisive for the booking behavior.
Secondly, social motivations may also trigger web accessibility implementation.
If so, web accessibility efforts primarily target people with disabilities. Social
aspects, such as equality, ethical behavior, social commitment, and responsible
attitude toward society, become the main drivers for web accessibility
implementation. Organizations with elaborate social values (particularly if
explicitly laid out in a corporate social responsibility strategy and corporate
culture) will rather implement web accessibility out of social reasons. The
organization of an interviewee, which has succeeded in web accessibility
implementation, falls into this category; he stated that “[when] I joined this
organization in 1989, social awareness already existed. I have grown in this
culture and I experience it every day”.
The degree of social commitment of an organization is usually closely linked to
its corporate culture. This is supported by a study showing that social
responsibility of organizations represents one of the central motivations for
corporate culture [44]. The important role of corporate culture in conjunction with
web accessibility implementation out of social motivations becomes obvious.
Besides other factors, organizational culture is influential on the readiness of
employees for organizational change [22]. In their “competing values
framework”, Quinn and Rohrbaugh [40] conclude that the culture focusing on
human relations and morale has a higher readiness for change. Drawing on these
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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assumptions, the change process of web accessibility implementation can be
facilitated in a culture based on social commitment. Social commitment as a
reason for web accessibility implementation has actually been identified across all
three sectors. This is particularly true for large organizations in which it is
traditionally more likely to have a clearly defined corporate social responsibility
strategy [36] because “the power and resources of large companies produce
responsibility to use that power and develop those resources responsibly” [20].
Furthermore, in some businesses the demand of (re-)establishing their reputation
has played an important role. As a consequence of the financial crisis activities of
banking institutions, for example, are closely observed by the public which has
motivated them to put more emphasis on social issues. Interviewees in the
financial services sector accordingly have expressed the need to be perceived as a
“decent bank” that “cares for others” and “does the right things” as a reason for
web accessibility consideration.
It can therefore be concluded that organizations with a corporate social
responsibility strategy and corporate culture may rather implement web
accessibility out of social reasons. Furthermore, organizations in crisis-ridden
business sectors (e.g., financial services sector in times of economic crisis)
especially focus on image improvement by means of social instruments. These
motivations particularly can be found in large organizations as they are typically
the ones with an explicit corporate social responsibility strategy.
Thirdly, web accessibility implementation can be initiated out of technical
motivations which encompass the intentions of an organization to improve the
website from a technical point of view in order to obtain a stable and secure site of
high quality. Not surprisingly, this is often initiated by IT experts who are aware
of the advantages of accessibility in terms of quality of webpages. Poor quality of
current web sites thus constitutes a major reason for the consideration of
accessibility, because improving accessibility includes several measures that also
increase simplicity, clarity, usability, download speed, and website quality. The
usage of structural elements (e.g., headings, lists), for example, contributes to a
clearly arranged web presence, the separation of content and layout reduces code
and provokes a reduction of download times, and the consistent navigation and
layout for the whole web presence causes an increase in usability. In short,
accessible websites usually have higher quality than inaccessible ones.
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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As a matter of fact, mere focus on the aesthetic design of a website goes at the
expense of its usability, and may therefore ultimately cause frustration by the
customer [5]. Moreover, websites with numerous design elements tend to be more
voluminous, and thus require longer download times. This is a crucial issue for
many customers, and thus decisive for the success of the firm. Cox and Dale
identify six key quality factors for websites, namely, clarity of purpose, design,
accessibility and speed, content, customer service, and customer relationships,
among which they classify accessibility as the “most critical factor for any
website” [5]. The increasing use of mobile devices for Internet access further
promotes the use of accessible websites, as they ensure device independency.
Organizations from the information services sector have been more concerned
about the stability and quality of their websites than others. An interviewee stated
that “[we] stumbled across it [i.e., web accessibility] only because our old site
was bad and poorly coded”. Similarly, another interviewee indicated that
“nobody was satisfied with the old website. It did not look good, did not work
satisfyingly, and did not have enough traffic”. Technical reasons were among the
major motivations for web accessibility implementation in this sector, also driven
by the high fluctuation of website contents particularly in the online media sector,
which was summarized by one interviewee stating that “[we] wanted a top-
quality website that conforms to standards, is usable and accessible”.
However, the improvement of website quality was an issue in all investigated
sectors. Its importance highly correlated with the value of the web presence for
the organization and was also noted as more important in those organizations with
websites for which content is subject to high fluctuations.
Despite economic, social, and technical motivations for web accessibility
implementation, in the interviews of the present study, the importance of key
persons who initiate the web accessibility project and are sufficiently committed
to the subject also became obvious. Across all three sectors investigated, these key
persons had some personal relation either from their private life or in their
business environment. For instance, they have either a disability themselves,
friends or family members with disabilities (“My brother has a severe sight
disability. He has to use magnification software when he uses the computer. He
told me to take care for the magnification aspect when designing a new site.”), or
friends or family members with expert knowledge about web accessibility (“My
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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friend is an expert, he told me to make the site accessible.”). Their interest may
also stem from their business background (e.g., colleagues with
impairments/technical interest, cooperation with interest groups) and accessibility
events or presentations. Table 5 lists such relations, categorizes them in personal
vs. business contexts, and refers to selected quotations.
Table 5: Decisive relations of key persons
4.3 Impacts of web accessibility implementation
This study has identified economic, social, and technical impacts of web
accessibility implementation. Economic impacts following web accessibility
implementation are multifaceted. In terms of costs, most organizations having
implemented accessible websites regard this as a long term investment that is
assumed to lead to cost efficiencies in the long run: “The website is much more
cost efficient as we do not have to recode it so often. It is not subject to trends
anymore. In the first programming phase we may have invested […] more than
for an inaccessible site. However, we have it for the third year now and it is
unbelievably maintenance neutral and one can easily change the content”.
Although, admittedly, organizations are unable to exactly quantify their costs and
savings, the cost criterion has usually not been mentioned as a critical issue.
Furthermore, web accessibility implementation may allow for differentiation [30]
and customer loyalty building [31], both adding to competitive advantage.
Obviously, some kind of communicating the accessibility efforts to the public in
order to achieve awareness and/or earn credits for the achievement remains
Background Key Person Relati ons Sector S el ecte d quotation
Disability F
"I initiated the project, because the bank's website was not
accessible with my screenreader".
Friends and family with disabilities T
"My brother has a severe sight disability. He uses magnification
software and told me to take care for the magnification aspect
when designing a new site".
Friends with expert knowledge in the
field of web accessibility
T"My friend is an expert. He told me about accessibility".
Colleagues with impairments F
"A colleague from the technical depar tment has a girlfriend with a
hearing impairment. He had the first suggestions about this
issue".
Colleagues with t echnical interest I
"According to my opinion, you can pique web developers’ interest
in accessibility. Sometimes they then implement it proactively
without the management forcing it".
Interest groups/disability
organizations
F"We have worked in cooperation with the institute of the blind".
Former colleagues with impairments F
"A former colleague has a sight dis ability and works for the
institute of the blind".
Other inputs (p res entations, events) F
"I hav e been at a lecture given by a sight disabled person. This
has impressed me a lot".
Personal
Business
T=tourism, F=financial services, I=information services
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
14
necessary, as accessibility of webpages is not visible for the average user. To this
end, some organizations have indicated their accessibility status on the website,
others have had their sites labeled, but some have opted to not communicate their
efforts to the public at all. At EU level, there have been attempts to establish
quality marks for accessible websites. However, very few Member States have
issued a quality mark so far.
9
Any impartial evaluation may provoke higher
credibility than the organization “just” claiming their efforts.
After successful implementation of accessible websites, indicators for social
impacts have been observed as well. Employees with disabilities sense a higher
degree of integration into the company. The notion that their handicap is taken
seriously and respected by the organization leads to a higher degree of motivation
of employees with special needs; in turn, this provokes an intrinsic incentive, and
therefore a higher motivation for their work. The implementation of web
accessibility is observed to be a learning process. Some organizations have
established knowledge management tools that foster knowledge exchange among
employees on that subject (e.g., internal knowledge platforms); these tools enable
knowledge exchange and contribute to the transfer from tacit to explicit
knowledge [33]. Moreover, an increase in awareness among both customers and
employees is created.
Not surprisingly, also technical impacts have been mentioned. In terms of
maintenance, considerable facilitation is reported, particularly with respect to
faster effectuation of changes and update of website content (“Changes and
maintenance of our site have become considerably easier.”), a faster training of
new employees (“We can train new employees much faster because every web
page has the same structure now.”), and device and browser independence (“The
release of a new browser used to provoke a crisis because we had to recode
almost all the websites. This is no longer the case.”). The ease of maintenance is
mentioned in all sectors though seems to be especially important for organizations
with a high fluctuation of website content. However, limitations are reported by
these organizations in terms of quality assurance. Despite well trained staff,
9
Web accessibility quality marks have been issued in some European countries but depend on different criteria
and evaluation methodologies. The Euracert label is an attempt to unite these quality marks. For details on
web accessibility certification issues, difficulties involved, and possible implementation scenarios see [25].
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
15
checks on every description for non-text elements (e.g., images, videos) are
crucial although impractical for very large web presences (e.g., online
newspaper).
Across all three sectors, a higher ranking in search engine results and, as a
consequence, higher website traffic is reported from accessible web presences.
This is in line with another empirical study by Hartjes that also reported
significant increases in website traffic (visits, time on site, returning visits)
through search engine optimization of accessible web presences [15]. Moreover,
an increase in simplicity and usability are among the technical changes of web
accessibility implementation: “We used to have disputations within the
organizations, because some people wanted their text to be positioned above
right, others below left, and others again in bigger letters, etc. These disputes do
not exist anymore as the structure is now predetermined. This also means an
economy of time.” Apparently, these effects contribute to a better website quality
on both the back end with respect to quality improvements in terms of
maintenance facilitations, as well as the front end in terms of usability and
simplicity increases provoking a higher website quality. As a consequence,
website quality and search engine optimization result in an increase of website
traffic of accessible web presences. An interviewee from the information services
sector pointed out that “one cannot be as clumsy as to not attain a better search
engine ranking with accessible sites”. The above - described impacts are
summarized in Table 6 and underpinned by selected quotations.
Table 6: Impacts of web accessibility implementation
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
16
However, various difficulties have been mentioned by the interviewees. In the
presence of numerous website editors, for instance, problems in terms of quality
assurance may arise. Despite employee trainings on accessibility, human errors or
negligence are difficult to check in case of a high frequency of web content
actualization and a high number of people changing content. This may be
aggravated as time and resources for quality assurance checks may not be
available. Next, a lack of awareness and media echo has been experienced in
organizations that rather focused on technical than on social or economic reasons
in the course of web accessibility implementation. Moreover, in case of
adaptations of extant web presences, substantial initial costs have been reported
by some organizations. An interviewee drew a comparison to illustrate this
finding: “Changing an existing site into an accessible site is like changing a
motorbus to a Porsche”. Consequently, a complete website re-launch may be
more efficient than adaptations of extant web presences. In many cases, the
Content Management Systems (CMS) in use did not provide accessibility
features. Therefore, organizations had to decide on either adapting the current
Category Impacts of implementation Sector S el ected quotation
Competitive advantage I
"With our accessible website we have definitely gained advantage in
the market".
Cost efficiency T,I
"The website is much more cost efficient as we do not have to recode
it so often".
Customer loyalty F
"Before the implementation of acces sibility, 75% of the customers
who wanted to open an account stayed with our bank, after the
implementation this number increased to 95%".
Corporate image F
"These days where banks are associated with negative things, it is
very important to show that we are doing positive things".
Website traffic I
"Our accessible site has become a traffic driver. 94% of our website
visits come from search engines".
In-house knowledge exchange F
"I hav e made the experience that commited employees who work
with the internet but come from different departments now talk about
web accessibility. A knowledge exchange is happening".
Awareness F, I
"For those who were not familiar with the issue, it has activated a
thinking process".
Integration F
"A sudden sensitization has occurred for employees with disabilities.
[…] They have been given motivation and self-confidence".
Maintenance T,F,I
"The website editors do not understand why some fields are now
obligatory. [...] T his is difficult to check because we have about 50
editors in our organization and we cannot check on every alt
attribute inserted".
Search engine ranking T,F,I
"Our website is found more easily by search engines now because of
the higher amount of keywords in the code".
Simplicity/Us ability T,F
"We used to have disputations within the organizations because
some people wanted their text to be positioned above right, others
below left and others again in bigger letters, etc. These conversations
do not exist anymore as the structure is now predetermined. This
also means an economy of time".
Website quality I "It has shown that accessibility entails better structure of websites".
Economic
Social
Technical
T=tourism, F=financial services, I=information services
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
17
CMS or implementing a new CMS with both options causing software
development and further employee training.
4.4 Reasons for failure of web accessibility implementation
This section is based on interviews in organizations that failed web accessibility
implementation. The authors discovered reasons for failure due to design or layout
of the website on the one hand and argumentation deficits on the other (cf. Table 7
for an overview and illustrative quotations).
Especially in multinationals and large organizations, strict corporate design
requirements have been issued which include detailed definitions for consistent
website layout. In several cases these requirements do not conform to web
accessibility guidelines and local web accessibility initiatives fail. An interviewee
from the financial service sector reported that “[the] headquarters issued
requirements on how a web presence had to look like that were contrary to our
accessible website proposal. It was completely impossible for us to succeed”.
Insufficient contrast of company colors may serve as an example for an obstacle
for accessible websites. The effort of changing inaccessible corporate design
requires approval of many internal decision makers which usually is deemed to be
unrealistic. Additionally, accessibility initiators state that accessibility deteriorates
the website layout because it limits design options. It is remarkable, however, that
corporate design adaptations have been made relatively easily in small and
medium organizations. In those organizations in which social values are part of
the company culture and the awareness for accessibility is prioritized, these
obstacles were overcome.
Another reason for lacking implementation is the absence of awareness for web
accessibility (for similar experiences at university libraries cf. [43]). It may be
caused by misconceptions (e.g., “web accessibility only concerns blind people”)
that need clear and concise presentation of web accessibility facts. Additionally, a
lack of knowledge of the social, business, and technical benefits of web
accessibility implementation has been reported as a reason for failure. Lack of
awareness, existence of misconceptions, and lack of argumentation thus are the
three major reasons that may cause a failure of web accessibility implementation.
Table 7: Reasons for failure of web accessibility implementation
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
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Across all cases, organizations that failed on web accessibility implementation are
characterized by (i) no or poor indication of elaborate corporate social
responsibility strategies or social values anchored in their corporate culture; (ii)
project initiators who were not convinced of the issue; (iii) project initiators who
were not well prepared and not aware of the full range of argumentation at the
time of project presentation; and/or (iv) a web accessibility implementation that
was conducted as an ad hoc attempt.
5. Conclusions
In this study, across three industrial sectors (tourism, financial services, and
information services), the level of accessibility of web presences, and the reasons
for and impacts after web accessibility implementation (or reasons for failure,
respectively) have been investigated. Social, economic, and/or technical
motivations have been identified. The kind of motivation depends on the size and
complexity of organizations, the organizational sector, the corporate culture and
degree of readiness for change, and the purpose and degree of complexity of the
web presence. Complex organizations in the financial services sector, for instance,
most often implement web accessibility out of social motivations. This is caused
by several factors: an existing general social responsibility in the financial
services sector per se, elaborate corporate social responsibility strategies of
complex organizations, and negative image associations with financial services
institutions that are meant to be weakened by means of socially responsible
activities. By contrast, small organizations in the information services sector
rather draw on technical motivations. Reasons for this development include a
generic technology-affinity of the information services sector, a high importance
Category Reasons for fail ure of i mpleme ntati on Sector S el ected quotation
Lack of argument s F
"I hav e only pointed out the social argument which was the
reason why it has not been considered further".
Lack of awareness T,I "The basic understanding of accessibility is not available".
Lack of top management sup port F
"The marketing department turned my effort down with the
words: We do not have many sight-disabled customers. As long
as this is not stated by law, we do not implement it".
Misconceptions F
"We do not have blind customers. This would not be
profitable".
Corporate design requirements F,I
"The headquarters issued requirements on how a web presence
had to look like that were contrary to our accessible website
proposal. It was completely impossible for us to succeed".
Differences in accessible layout F
"If we had implemented accessibility, our website would be
worse compared to our competitors’ sites".
Argumen-
tation
Design/
Layout
T=tourism, F=financial services, I=information services
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
19
of website quality since the service is consumed directly on the site, a high
fluctuation of website content, and a low adoption tendency of corporate social
responsibility strategies by small organizations. In general, organizations are more
likely to implement web accessibility when featuring the following
characteristics: (i) elaborate corporate culture with commitment to social values
and corporate social responsibility strategies, (ii) high importance of extant web
presence for core business, (iii) website content subject to frequent changes, (iv)
relevance of elderly customers for core business, and (v) in-house availability of
key personalities.
The perceived impact of successful web accessibility implementation also varies
across organizational sectors, sizes, and website characteristics. In analogy to the
motivations for web accessibility implementation, social, technical, and economic
impacts have been found. For instance, organizations have experienced a higher
degree of employee integration, knowledge exchange, and awareness for this
issue. In terms of economic impact, an increase in image, customer loyalty, and
website traffic have been reported. Additionally, web presences have improved in
quality.
On the other hand, several challenges have been identified. Organizations with
numerous website editors and a considerable fluctuation of website content often
face difficulties in terms of quality assurance, as just one mistake of a single
website editor may render a site inaccessible. Moreover, errors may remain
undetected for a long period of time, because daily quality checks on extensive
data are not feasible. A lack of automated evaluation tools as well as insufficient
time and/or resources for quality checks aggravate this situation. By now, the
enduring quality of accessible web presences can only be fostered by measures
such as routine check-up and regular staff training. Further problems comprise
less media attention than expected (which is particularly true for organizations for
which accessibility was regarded as a side effect of quality improvement), the
need for promoting the improved accessibility in order to gain business benefits
from it, high initial costs in case of adaptations of extant web presences, and
coding difficulties (and, thus, increasing time effort) for complex sites.
Given that in most cases the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, the question
remains why only few organizations in the private sector have adopted
accessibility so far. Several reasons have been identified: In some cases it seems
Leitner/Strauss/Stummer. Web accessibility implementation in private sector organizations. Univ Access Inf Soc 15, 249260 (2016).
20
that the initiators did not have a strategic plan in mind and only proceeded on a
trial-and-error basis. Such “ad hoc” implementation decisions, possibly coupled
with corporate design incompatibilities or argumentation problems, often result in
a failure of implementation. Furthermore, corporate culture, climate and values
influence the employees’ resistance to change and management decision making.
However, the lack of implementation is not only due to argumentation problems
or corporate design incompatibilities. In many cases, the awareness for the issue
of web accessibility is not present in private sector organizations. This is a
remarkable phenomenon, since almost every banking institution has ramps, every
hotel considered for evaluation has wheelchair accessible rooms, but only a
minority of them has accessible websites, even though the adaptation of buildings
undoubtedly requires higher investment than accessible web presences.
Further research may extend this study horizontally (i.e., by adding sectors and,
particularly, firms from other countries) as well as vertically (i.e., by including
more organizations from each sector). Either way, the case study research
framework introduced may be applied and will enable sound cross-industry,
cross-organizational, and/or cross-country comparisons. A stepwise enrichment of
the study may reveal additional relationships and/or differences between
industries or countries, respectively, enrich the knowledge base for organizations,
and thus increase relevance for research and organizational practice.
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... However, in business administration or management science, the issue of Web accessibility has not captured any attention so far (Leitner et al, 2016). ...
Thesis
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