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The Role of Technology in Solving Digital Accessibility

Stylized version of a web browser with gears in the bottom left corner and the AudioEye icon in the top right corner

Learn how technology is helping to solve digital accessibility at scale — and why manual testing is still part of the solution.

If you polled 100 random businesses, odds are pretty good that each one would say they want their website to be accessible to all users.

In simple terms, that means every visitor would be able to accomplish key tasks — like making a purchase or setting an appointment — in a reasonable amount of time and without exerting extra effort.

The challenge for most businesses is actually getting to that point. Some of the things that make the internet such a unique place — like the speed of content creation and the dynamic nature of websites — are also what make it so hard to deliver ongoing accessibility.

There’s no practical way to solve digital accessibility just by having people manually review every site and fix every error. And while technology today allows us to find and fix the majority of common accessibility errors, it isn’t a complete solution on its own.

In this post, we examine the role of technology in solving digital accessibility and discuss best practices for getting the most out of automation.

A stylized web browser with the label Automated Testing next to a keyboard with the label Manual Testing

A Brief History of Accessibility Technology

We’ve come a long way from the first accessibility tools that emerged in the late 1990s and early aughts. These were free site scanning tools — Cynthia Says, Bobby, and a number of others — that evaluated online content against the accessibility standards of the time: WCAG 1.0, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) standards, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

These scanners helped early adopters identify and resolve some accessibility issues, while also exposing just how complex a problem digital accessibility had already become.

Nearly 30 years later, there is still debate over the best approach to digital accessibility.

On one side, there are simple automation-only solutions that can monitor, identify, and resolve some accessibility issues. These solutions are affordable, but they are unable to fix a significant number of accessibility issues — even for common content like video, audio, and PDF.

On the other side, there are manual services that provide scheduled site audits, labor-intensive reporting, and guidance for source code fixes. Manual audits are able to catch more accessibility issues, but their high cost and one-off nature can lead to long periods of time where issues go undetected.

Additionally, manual audits leave it up to site owners to fix the issues, which is not a feasible option for businesses and content creators who don’t have in-house developers or the resources to hire one.

Let’s take a look at what technology can help us accomplish and the best way to use it in solving digital accessibility today.

A stylized web browser being scanned by a magnifying glass with an exclamation point in the middle

How Can We Use Technology Today?

Technology is already a critical part of solving accessibility at scale, and its importance will only grow as automation becomes smarter and capable of solving more issues. Already, automation is helping us fix billions of accessibility issues every day and identify patterns we can use to learn and build new solutions.

Today, technology enables us to:

  • Solve accessibility issues across a wide range of disabilities.
  • Solve accessibility issues as they happen on site load, before they are experienced by users.
  • Help companies operationalize accessibility and shift away from treating it as an added expense or technical burden.
  • Create accessibility tools that are easy to find and use and provide instant help for end users.
  • Streamline feedback from people with disabilities and act on it in a timely manner.
  • Provide transparency throughout the entire accessibility process.

Creating an Environment Where Technology Can Succeed

We can’t discuss the role of technology without bringing up the culture and ethics of operating in the accessibility space. At the 2021 M-Enabling Summit, AudioEye COO Dominic Varacalli and Anil Lewis, the Executive Director of Blindness Initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind, discussed three conditions necessary for a successful use of technology:

  1. Transparency: Accessibility vendors must be transparent about what their technology can and can’t remediate, and provide customers with options to fix the remaining issues. Transparency is the key to creating a more collaborative environment that is focused on improving accessibility, instead of keeping customers locked in a sluggish cycle of piecemeal solutions.
  2. Collaboration with people with disabilities: Providing a way for end users to give feedback throughout the product development process — not just at the end — is important in fostering collaboration and helping to develop solutions that actually serve their intended users.
  3. Manual audits and remediation: Automation is not a silver bullet for digital accessibility. It has shortcomings and will fail when faced with certain types of accessibility issues. Having human experts ready to step in and provide manual support is critical to ensuring the highest level of accessibility.
Three icons in a row — a person on the left, the AudioEye icon in the middle, and a gear on the right

A Hybrid Approach to Accessibility

Technology is helping us move closer to a world where the internet is accessible for all users, but it isn’t ready to stand on its own. There’s still the need for manual audits — run by certified testers and members of the disability community — to help identify accessibility issues, solve issues proactively, and develop new automated fixes.

To learn more about AudioEye’s approach, download the Building for Digital Accessibility at Scale white paper. Or, identify accessibility issues you can resolve today with a free scan of your website.

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