Today, where inclusivity and diversity are rightfully valued, ensuring that your applications are accessible to all users is not just a moral imperative but also makes good business sense.

Accessibility is no longer just a buzzword[1], it’s a fundamental aspect of software development that demands attention from the very inception of a project. It is not about catering to users with disabilities, it’s about creating an inclusive experience for everyone, regardless of their abilities. By making your applications accessible, you’re opening up your product to a wider audience, including those with disabilities, aging populations, and users in various contexts and environments.

Nevertheless, for small companies and startups, especially those in the early stages of development, resources are often limited, and priorities must be carefully balanced. While it’s understandable that accessibility may not be the primary focus initially, it’s essential to recognize its significance and incorporate it into the development process from the outset, since overlooking accessibility can be a costly mistake in the long run.

Here’s the good news: You don’t necessarily need to spend thousands of dollars to adopt the best practices of accessibility. In fact, you can handle a lot of the work yourself — and when you invest in inclusive design, you provide every user with a better experience.[2]

That said, let’s dive into how adopting a strategic approach, raising awareness among team members, and making incremental improvements over time, small companies can integrate accessibility into their development process without significant financial burdens, prioritizing foundational accessibility practices and incorporating those non-negotiable elements that ensures that even small companies can create digital products that are inclusive and accessible to all users.

Accessibility is not just an optional add-on, it’s a principal aspect for Web applications, ordered by legal requirements and guided by industry standards. By adhering to ADA standards, following WCAG guidelines, and incorporating accessibility best practices and following accessibility guidelines can drive growth and customer loyalty, increase your brand image, and give your business a competitive advantage[3].

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in many areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and many public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.[4]

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are technical standards on web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The guidelines represent a shared, international standard developed by many different stakeholders, including industry, disability organizations, government, and accessibility research organizations. WCAG isn’t a legal requirement, but a set of globally adopted standards. The guidelines aim to make websites, apps, electronic documents, and other digital assets accessible to people with a broad range of disabilities, including sensory, intellectual, learning and physical disabilities.[5]

The Department of Justice (DOJ) in the United States has also been actively involved in enforcing accessibility standards, particularly concerning digital accessibility. Although the language of the ADA does not explicitly mention the Internet, the Department has taken the position that Americans with Disabilities Act Title III Regulations covers access to Web sites of public accommodations. The Department has issued guidance on the ADA as applied to the Web sites of public entities, which includes the availability of standards for Web site accessibility. [6]

Now, at this point, you might be inclined to think “But my company doesn’t develop public entities web apps.", well, in January 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a groundbreaking decision on a case regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) applicability to websites and apps. A blind user had filed a lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza on the basis that the company’s online resources were incompatible with screen-reading software. The lower court had agreed with Domino’s defense that, because the Department of Justice does not provide specific accessibility standards, the lawsuit violated the company’s right to due process. The Ninth Circuit Court reversed the lower court’s decision, arguing that “the lack of specific regulations, not yet promulgated by the Department of Justice, did not eliminate Domino’s statutory duty”[7] (Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC)

The Ninth Circuit Court’s decision set a precedent, emphasizing that digital inclusivity is a fundamental requirement for all online entities, regardless of specific regulations.

But well, you already know that accessibility is crucial, and it’s understandable you may not have the resources to invest in it. There are four points that we call the non-negotiable aspects of accessibility based on the WCAG 2.1 standards that small companies can prioritize within their development workflows, that not only will help your company to build accessible products but also will give your business a competitive advantage.

Easy Wins

Startups can begin by implementing foundational accessibility practices without significant resource investments. This includes aspects like utilizing semantic HTML, ensuring keyboard navigation, color contrast and providing alt text for images. These basic steps lay the groundwork for accessibility without requiring extensive time or financial commitments.

1. Semantic HTML

Semantic HTML involves using HTML elements according to their intended purpose rather than just for presentation. It’s about structuring your website with elements that describe their meaning and role in the document structure.[8]

This easy practice ensures your products have a smooth flow for screen readers while also offering additional technical benefits such as SEO, readability, and maintainability.

comparison between website using ambiguous HTML elements vs semantic HTML

Image taken from What Is Semantic Markup and Why You Should Use It

2. Keyboard Navigation

Allowing users to navigate and interact with the application using only the keyboard is essential for accessibility and should be implemented as a minimum requirement. Many users with motor disabilities rely on a keyboard. Some people have tremors which don’t allow for fine muscle control. Others have little or no use of their hands, or no hands at all.[9]

When developing a web application, it’s crucial for developers to test the page’s interaction using only the keyword.

How to test with a keyboard?

  • Tab: Navigate to links and form controls.
  • Shift + Tab: Navigate backwards.
  • Spacebar: Activate checkboxes and buttons.
  • Enter: Activate links and buttons.
  • Arrow keys: Radio buttons, select/drop-down menus, sliders, tab panels, auto-complete, tree menus, etc.
  • Escape: Dismisses browser dialog or menu.

What to check for?

  • Is anything mouse-only, such as rollover menus?
  • Is a “skip navigation” link available? Activate the skip link and hit Tab again to ensure it functions correctly.
  • Is the navigation order logical and intuitive?
  • Is a visible keyboard focus indicator present?
  • Test dialogs that ‘pop’ open. Can you navigate and close the dialog? Does focus return to a logical place?
  • Esc should also close all dialogs.

List taken from Manual Testing for Accessibility at Harvard University

3. Color Contrast

Color is always contextual, we don’t perceive it in isolation. This means that the same color can be perceived differently depending on its surroundings[10]. In the web, maintaining sufficient color contrast for text and interactive elements ensures readability for users with visual impairments and should be addressed to meet basic accessibility standards.

The WCAG provide standards for contrast ratios and how we use color in our digital content. WCAG states that sufficient color contrast for regular text must provide at least a 4.5:1 ratio. If the text is large (about 18.66 px and bold or larger or 24px or larger), the ratio requirement is 3:1.

Color contrast is a measure between the brightness of two colors ranging from 1:1 (this would be a color against itself) and 21:1 (e.g., black against white).[11]

As a guide, you can use this contrast-table page to determine if the colors you are using for a web page are accessible according to WCAG 2.1 contrast ratio standards.

4. Alt Text for Images

Providing descriptive alternative text for images ensures that users with visual impairments can understand the content conveyed by images through assistive technologies.

Well-written alt text can create a fulfilling and inclusive experience for people using assistive technology. To write a good alt text consider the context of the image. Which additional content is it supporting? Which details are important in the image? The alt text should match the tone of voice of the accompanying content.[12]

As a guide, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides an Alt decision tree, which describes how to use the alt attribute of the <img> element in various situations. For some types of images, there are alternative approaches, such as using CSS background images for decorative images or web fonts instead of images of text.[13]

There you have it.

These four non-negotiable items aren’t just about catering to users with disabilities, they’re about creating an inclusive experience for everyone, regardless of their abilities. By making your applications accessible without spending too much time on it, you’re opening up your product to a wider audience, including those with disabilities, aging populations, and users in various contexts and environments.

Accessibility Testing Tools

In addition, there are a ton of free tools available for testing and fixing accessibility issues, such as:

Since dedicating substantial resources to accessibility may not be feasible for small companies initially, fostering education on this matter within the team can go a long way. Investing in raising awareness about accessibility best practices ensures that team members understand its importance and can incorporate accessible design principles into their art.

Closing thoughts

By being strategic and making awareness among the team members about it, small companies and startups are able to make accessibility part of the process of development without big financial burdens. It’s proved that accessibility can’t be completely ignored due to limited resources or priorities of startups, however, foundational practices of accessibility and non-negotiable elements can help startups to achieve digitally inclusive and accessible products for their users, with a culture of accessibility from the very beginning.


  1. 2023 Web Accessibility Lawsuit Trends and Insights
  2. Do Small Businesses Need to Worry About Web Accessibility?
  3. Accessibility in software development: Introduction to Web Accessibility
  4. What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
  5. WCAG 101: Understanding the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
  6. Americans with Disabilities Act Title III Regulations
  7. Why web accessibility is no longer optional
  8. Web Accessibility Best Practices – How to Ensure Everyone Can Use Your Website
  9. Keyboard Accessibility
  10. Color and contrast matter in web accessibility
  11. The importance of color contrast in digital accessibility
  12. Accessibility: Image Alt text best practices
  13. An alt Decision Tree