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The Economic Argument and Other Incentives for Business

Participants saw the need for a broad culture change surrounding accessibility and deliberated on what would make a certification model particularly attractive to businesses. Given participants’ agreement that there is an economic argument for accessibility, Phase 2 working groups might consider the different challenges facing small businesses and large organizations looking to embed accessibility and how to communicate the value of universal access to each of these groups.

Key Discussion Points

Addressing attitudinal barriers and lack of awareness

  • Attitudes and a lack of awareness are the main barriers to accessibility; the main strength of the certification approach is in addressing these barriers and encouraging a cultural shift
  • Many businesses want to be accessible but do not know what that means or how to do it
    • The model could provide guidance on how to incorporate accessibility in strategic planning, with recognition for organizations that do it well
  • A focus on productivity and enabling technologies could link accessibility to other business challenges related to attitudinal or systemic barriers, such as adapting to a digital economy or more collaborative management structures
  • Increasing employee awareness of accessibility and the needs of persons with disabilities in the community can often make as much of an impact as structural accommodations
    • People with intellectual disabilities often encounter employees who speak to their support persons  rather than directly to the individual
    • Employees are often unaware of invisible or undisclosed disabilities
    • Participants expressed having had positive experiences in other jurisdictions (e.g., Vancouver, Quebec) where employees were focused on providing a welcoming and inclusive experience for each individual customer

Communicating the business case for accessibility

  • Businesses need clear demonstration that they will get a return for their investment in accessibility
    • The messaging surrounding a certification model would address two key questions from business: “Why should I do this?” and “What’s in it for me?”
  • There is an economic argument, supported by market research, that accessibility positively impacts a business’s bottom line in the long run
    • Accessibility could be integrated into a company’s growth strategy – from management policies to tools for increased productivity
    • If market competitiveness were based on an organization’s level of accessibility (if society had high expectations), businesses would be more likely to adopt it 
  • The certification model should account for small businesses’ lack of capacity and large organizations’ conflicting mandates and regulatory fatigue
    • Several participants suggested an approach that starts by asking what each business’s customers need 
  • Universal design could serve as a foundation for the business case by promoting the idea that accessibility is good for everyone 
    • If businesses think of universal access as more than an add-on, but as a benefit to all consumers and employees, it could generate interest beyond compliance

Marketing accessibility

  • Messaging could shift the focus from customer service to the customer experience; businesses are more likely to see the value in accessibility if it is tied directly to their customers’ needs 
    • Putting a human face to accessibility through stories and vignettes would help businesses make the connection between accessibility and their customer base
  • Businesses are likely to be motivated by appealing to the large demographic of aging seniors as an untapped customer base
  • Using language and tools familiar to business (e.g., profit, rationale, organizational efficiency; a star or rating system) could promote uptake
  • Celebrating accessibility champions and success stories could spur healthy competition and collaboration between businesses  

Branding accessibility

  • Marketing the accessibility brand could serve two purposes: to position access as a competitive edge and to signal accessibility to customers
    • The pride associated with displaying the accessibility “brand” would give it power
  • Branding could raise awareness and bring accessibility into the mainstream through logos, published scoring, advertising, press coverage and social media (as with LEED, Better Business Bureau, and B Corporation)
    • Logos, ratings, and press coverage would be simple and recognizable by people with a wide range of physical and intellectual disabilities

“All these different trainings and certification programs and…separate pieces of things…what I would like as someone who has limited resources but is aware of accessibility and wants to do it well is for someone to walk me through the steps to become excellent.”

While participants broadly agreed on the above points as foundational considerations, Phase 2 working groups could further discuss and find consensus on the below points. The key question for participants was: How can we motivate change?

Points for Further Dialogue

  • Can a certification model increase profitability for businesses by enhancing accessibility and improving service to individuals with disabilities? 
  • What is most likely to incentivize business? Subsidies? Regulatory consequences? Recognition and reward? A strong business case? Greater awareness?
  • Will an incentive-based system increase accessibility or “preach to the choir”?
  • While an incremental approach is more likely to be attractive to business, could businesses be aiming for more from the outset? Would more aggressive benchmarks discourage businesses from doing more than the bare minimum?