Four Key Challenges in Digital Accessibility
Learn about key challenges in web accessibility and the role of technology in helping to address them.
When we talk to prospects and customers about their websites, we like to tell them that digital accessibility — done right — isn’t a one-time fix. It’s a journey.
And like most journeys, the path to accessibility isn’t without a few bumps in the road.
Some of these bumps can come from within your organization. You might encounter resistance, or lack the bandwidth to make accessibility a top priority.
Others come from the outside. It isn’t always clear what you should do, and that ambiguity can be magnified by vendors and solutions that fail to deliver the level of accessibility they promise.
It’s no surprise, then, that just 3% of websites are accessible to people with disabilities, even though 1 in 4 American adults lives with a disability.
Here’s a look at four key challenges on the road to digital accessibility, and tips on avoiding potholes along the way.
1. Ambiguity Between Legal and Technical Frameworks
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the key legislations that prohibits discrimination based on disability. In order for websites to be compliant with the ADA, they have to be accessible to people who use assistive technology (AT) to browse the internet.
Based on the way courts and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have interpreted the law so far, ADA compliance is mandatory for government and business websites. However, the ADA doesn’t provide any technical guidance or specific legal criteria for businesses to follow.
Instead, the courts and the DOJ have leaned on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the standard for web accessibility. Under the ADA, WCAG is almost universally cited in lawsuits and settlements — and legal precedents show that adhering to WCAG is key to ADA compliance.
But a lot is left up to interpretation, including how many and which WCAG criteria a website needs to conform with in order to be considered ADA compliant.
That ambiguity can present a risk for businesses, especially as they grow in size and are held to higher standards — all while facing a bigger risk of getting sued for non-compliance. In fact, this situation is playing out in real time as the number of ADA-related lawsuits increased by 400% between 2017 and 2021.
With the threat of legal action looming, many businesses are turning to accessibility vendors that sell inadequate solutions. These vendors span cheap, automation-only solutions to expensive manual audits, neither of which deliver ongoing accessibility and compliance.
2. Misleading Discourse and a Lack of Transparency
At the moment, overlays are one of the most contentious topics in conversations about digital accessibility.
In simple terms, an overlay is a snippet of code that adds functionality to a website. Overlays are typically offered by third parties and range from chatbots and A/B testing solutions to website analytics and tracking tools. A popular example is Google Analytics, which is found on nearly two-thirds of websites today.
In the world of accessibility, the term “overlay” is used to describe toolbars and/or automation that help detect and resolve accessibility issues — such as small text or poor color contrast — as the page loads for the user.
The problem with overlays is that they can’t detect or resolve every issue, no matter what vendors say.
Certain types of content — such as video, audio, and PDF — cannot be fixed by overlays. Other issues require human intervention — or require a level of nuance and understanding that is beyond the scope of automation today. Finally, some overlays interfere with the work of assistive technology, such as screen readers.
Unfortunately, the misleading discourse and false promises made by some vendors can make it difficult for businesses to understand the difference between a simple overlay and a solution that blends automation with expert human intervention.
3. Current Limits of Technology
Many common accessibility issues can be identified and resolved with automated solutions, but the technology is not ready to stand alone.
AudioEye’s recent study of more than one thousand websites showed that AudioEye’s automation can detect up to 70% of common accessibility issues today — and resolve about two-thirds of them. This study compared AudioEye’s automated test suite and automated remediation software to manual testing and remediation.
For the remaining issues, however, automated technology is still in its infancy. In-market solutions today have yet to achieve the sophistication required to reliably identify and resolve more subtle accessibility issues, which require a richer contextual understanding of a web page’s content and objective.
Today, automation helps address a majority of issues on a regular basis, saving time and other resources. By leaving 30% of issues for manual scans and fixes, automation helps make progress at a much faster pace.
4. Dynamic Nature of Websites and Speed of Content Creation
At the top of this post, we mentioned that we regularly talk to our customers about digital accessibility.
That’s because accessibility isn’t something you can do once, or set and forget (and hope for the best). It’s an ongoing commitment to making sure your website is accessible to all users.
This can put a lot of stress on businesses, especially when you consider the dynamic nature of websites and the speed of content creation. People increasingly expect websites to deliver personalized experiences based on their behavior, preferences, and other data. At the same time, millions of blog posts, videos, and images are added every day.
All that adds up to an internet that is dynamic and constantly changing. But also one that is difficult to make accessible. Each update to your website — whether it’s a complete overhaul or the addition of a new product photo or customer testimonial — runs the risk of being inaccessible to people with disabilities.
Figuring out how to balance automation with expert human intervention is one of the keys to delivering an equitable experience for all users.
A Hybrid Approach to Accessibility
Faced with these challenges, providing equal access to all users is a daunting task. But it’s one that can be met head on with the right blend of technology and human expertise.
Automation cannot solve every accessibility issue. But it’s necessary to help expand and scale digital accessibility, given the sheer volume and dynamism of content creation.
Technology is doing a lot of the heavy lifting to deliver ongoing and scalable accessibility, but businesses looking to make their websites accessible to all users should consider fortifying automation with human testing and intervention.
Click here to learn about AudioEye’s approach to accessible web design. Or, identify accessibility issues you can resolve today with a free scan of your website.