By Dave Jones, Director of Mobility Nationwide

By now some (though not all) businesses have realised that investing in disabled access for their business is not only ethical, but also profitable. There are millions of people currently living with a disability, and they represent a spending power that is often untapped due to poor accessibility. This is an opportunity that large and small businesses should be keen to engage.

However, simply investing in disabled access is only the first stage. Businesses also need to clearly communicate their access online so that disabled customers can plan their trip in advance. In order to avoid a potentially wasted visit, many disabled people decide against a trip to a shop if they can't find out online whether a particular shop has a wheelchair ramp or a designated parking space for wheelchair accessible vehicles. Don't forget that when you lose a disabled customer, you may well lose their friends, family and perhaps even their carer too.

This brings us to web accessibility more generally. Whether your business has a physical presence or not, you should be sure that your website is accessible to a disabled person. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it makes good business sense to extend your business to as many potential customers as possible. Secondly, depending on where your business is based, you may be legally required to take reasonable steps to make your business accessible to those with disabilities. Lastly, a website that sell goods may well be more attractive to disabled people than a physical shop, so businesses should do their best to be welcoming.

There are a number of different disabilities that can affect web access, including visual, auditory, motor, cognitive and other impairments. Here are some things you can do to make your website accessible to people with disabilities:

• Ensure that a visually-impaired user can use screen reader to translate the content either into synthetic speech or Braille displays. This means that images should be accompanied by HTML text tags to help convey meaning.

• The same applies to any pre-recorded audio on your website.

• Do not use colour as an integral part of conveying information on your website. Make sure that colours are clearly distinguishable if colours are used for access.

• Make sure that all of the website is fully accessible from a keyboard, and that a mouse is not necessary for access to any part of the website.

• If you have content that is displayed for a set amount of time, make sure that all users have enough time to access that content, or that the timer is adjustable.

• Do not design content that may trigger seizures.

The full link to the web accessibility guide can be found here.

If you own a larger business and fail to make your website accessible to those with disabilities, then you are making yourself vulnerable to legal action. This is because businesses are sometimes legally required to ensure that their websites meet certain design standards in order to be accessible to those with disabilities. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) initiated action against two high-profile companies, and ended up settling out of court without naming either of the companies involved. Small business owners may be able to argue that they lack the resources to design a website with disabled access, but they would have to be able to prove their case.

Web accessibility for the disabled is an issue that business owners must become more aware of. As the population ages, businesses can expect to see a larger proportion of their customers affected by some kind of disability. Business owners who make their website more accessible to the one third of people aged between 50 and 64 with a disability will have a broader potential customer base than those who do not.