Four Key Challenges in Digital Accessibility

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Four Key Challenges in Digital Accessibility

Posted July 27, 2023


Posted July 27, 2023

A stylized web page that uses red x marks to show accessibility issues.
A stylized web page that uses red x marks to show accessibility issues.

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Building a digital compliance strategy isn’t always easy. Here are four roadblocks that impact many web accessibility initiatives — and how organizations can achieve their goals by overcoming those challenges.

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.

That journey isn’t always easy. Organizations might resist change, or fail to support efforts to improve access. Developers might not know when to start. Vendors might promise a level of accessibility that isn’t realistic. 

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. By discussing some of the key challenges that impact accessibility, we can build a better, more sustainable approach. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most common challenges and discuss ways to approach those issues. 

The Current Landscape of Digital Accessibility

Worldwide, there’s a growing focus on the importance of inclusive design for both legal and practical reasons. 

Legally, most organizations have a clear responsibility to accommodate users with disabilities. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been regularly interpreted as applicable to online content, and in April 2024, the Department of Justice finalized a rule establishing technical guidelines for Title II of the ADA. 

The European Accessibility Act (EAA), Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), and other international laws have also created clear standards for digital access. 

But for forward-thinking brands, digital compliance is a secondary concern. More than 1 billion people worldwide live with disabilities — including roughly 1 in 4 U.S. adults. Businesses that have not prioritized accessibility are missing an opportunity for growth.

And since the best practices of accessible design overlap with the best practices of web design, search engine optimization (SEO), and product development, more brands are taking steps to improve access.

Challenges to Digital Accessibility

Despite the growing awareness of digital accessibility, many businesses still face challenges when implementing and maintaining accessible websites. 

If you’re building a web accessibility initiative for your organization, you can support your strategy by understanding those challenges — and addressing them as early as possible.

Statistic showing a 400% increase in ADA-related lawsuits between 2017 and 2021
Stylized version of a website overlay on a web page, next to a symbol for hearing loss and an icon of a keyboard

2. Misleading Discourse and a Lack of Transparency

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 poor color contrast, which impacts people with color vision deficiencies (color blindness) and other visual impairments — 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. If people who use screen readers can’t operate your website because of an “accessibility overlay,” that’s certainly a major problem.

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. 

The bottom line: Any accessibility testing tool that promises immediate WCAG conformance isn’t making an accurate claim.

Chart that says 70% of common accessibility issues can be detected with automated technology

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 web pages showed that AudioEye’s automation can detect up to 70% of the most 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 web accessibility 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. Automated tools can resolve issues with HTML markup, change background colors, ensure that form fields have appropriate labels, and address hundreds of other common accessibility errors. By leaving 30% of issues for manual scans and fixes, automation helps make progress at a much faster pace.

But automation isn’t perfect: 

  • Generative artificial intelligence (AI) cannot yet reliably write image alternative text (also known as image alt text), which is highly dependent on context. If an image has inaccurate alt text, it may be confusing for people with low vision (or for all users, if the image fails to load).
  • Automated tools may not be able to determine whether images include pictures of text. They may not be able to read pre-rendered (or “burned-in") text to the user. 
  • Automation can fix some hyperlink issues, but may not be able to write accurate hyperlink text (link text), which tells users what will happen when they activate a hyperlink. If links don’t have descriptive text, usability suffers.
  • Automated tools can check whether a website has subheadings, title tags, and other important semantic markup — but cannot determine whether those elements are sufficiently accurate.

All of these issues are potential compliance violations. More importantly, they’re deeply frustrating to real-life users. While automation has an important role to play in the future of accessibility, some issues will require human judgment (at least for the foreseeable future).

Icon of a person surrounded by a bunch of new web pages

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. An accessibility-first mindset leads to a better user experience, period — for screen reader users, keyboard-only users, mobile device users, and any other individual who visits your website.

But while accessibility is an excellent investment, it requires commitment. This can put a lot of stress on businesses and web developers, 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. 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. A line of poor ARIA markup or a missing alt attribute might have an immediate real-world impact on your users.

Figuring out how to balance automation with expert human intervention is one of the keys to delivering an equitable experience for everyone. Regular accessibility audits, paired with automated fixes and strong web development practices, can provide a sustainable path forward.

Regardless of the size of your website or budget, website accessibility is achievable — with the right approach.

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, although 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.

At AudioEye, we’ve built our platform to address the challenges that impact businesses' accessibility efforts — and to provide a straightforward path to sustainable compliance. By combining advanced automation with expert human guidance, we provide organizations with the resources they need to build better content for all users.

Click here to learn about AudioEye’s approach to accessible web design. Or, identify website accessibility issues you can resolve today with a free scan.

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