Accessibility Marketing Is On Trend, But It’s Also the Law

April 13, 2017

All of our abilities are temporary. That’s how Geordie Gibbon, Program Advisor at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, opened his presentation at the recent CMA roundtable event, “Accessible Conversations in Marketing.” In fact, for the first time ever, the ratio of Canadians aged 65 or older is greater than that of children between the ages of 0-14. This trend won’t reverse course any time soon. What’s more, as soon as you hit 60, you are three times more likely to develop a disability.

For marketers, these demographic trends represent both an opportunity and a challenge. By 2031, $536 billion in total income will reside with both senior citizens and people with disabilities. To ignore this reality is bad business. To do anything but engage this section of the populace in a manner that is both fair and meaningful risks creating barriers for would-be customers.

It is also out of step with the law. When it comes to accessibility legislation, Canada is a world pioneer. Our federal government was the first to ensure public-facing web sites complied with international standards for accessibility. Our provinces are also actively legislating and strengthening accessibility guidelines. One need look no further than Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians Disabilities Act (AODA) which already mandates inclusive design for consumer-facing websites for private sector organizations and NPOs with more than 50 employees.

Key Takeaways for Accessibility Planning

The face of accessibility is marketing. According to Chelsey Gottel, Vice-Chair of the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s Athlete Council and 12-time Paralympic medallist, accessibility is about equity, not equality. Instead of providing all consumers with the exact same product or experience, marketers should give people what they need to thrive. Brands create multiple contact points with consumers on a daily basis. On the frontline of communication, they can help normalize accessibility.

Here are top considerations for marketers prioritizing inclusive interactions:

1. Plan for Accessibility from the Start

Rather than retroactively adapting existing products or campaigns, accessibility should be top of mind from the beginning. This issue builds off of the following points:

  • Accessibility is about ensuring as many consumers as possible can effectively use a product or service. This manner of thinking automatically lends itself to better strategy, design and overall key messaging.
  • It’s cheaper! Nobody benefits from redundant or duplicate work effort. If you want to efficiently scale or execute a program, you need to troubleshoot accessibility barriers before it’s too late.
  • It will help you stand out from the crowd. Whether it’s during the RFP or launch phase of an initiative, accessibility-minded brands are at the forefront of legal, social and economic equity.
2. Accessibility and Beautiful Design Are Not Mutually Exclusive

A key tenet of inclusive design is taking into account the experience of customers who have low vision, colour-blindness, are deaf or hard of hearing, among other disabilities.

One way for brands to address vision and auditory barriers is by relaying the same information in a multitude of ways. By doing so, brands are actually enhancing the overall look and utility of their programs. This is clear when looking at online accessibility practices such as:

  • Providing descriptive text for visual elements, including captions for images and charts, along with transcripts for videos
    • Such practices actually increase the searchability of online content, improving the ability of search engines to properly index sites
  • Using high-contrast colours, clear fonts and jargon-less content
    • These tactics ensure content is readable and understandable for all consumers, with and without disabilities

Accessibility is about so much more than compliance in marketing. It’s about eliminating barriers and increasing the ability of consumers to interact with brands regardless of circumstance. For more information on how companies can better build equitable programs, please do not hesitate to reach out to the team at Environics Communications. CMA also provides great resources on accessibility practices to help navigate this ever-changing space at

This image shows a man clearing snow for a group of students. This man insists on clearing the snow off the steps for the majority of students, leaving the student in the wheelchair for last. The student in the wheelchair argues that shoveling the ramp would allow all students to get in, whether they use a wheelchair or not.
Cartoon shared by Chelsey Gottell during her presentation at the CMA roundtable event, “Accessible Conversations in Marketing.” According to Gottell, accessible marketing is about equity, not equality.

Credit for header image: alexsl