The Pitfalls and Perils of Opt-In Accessibility

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The Pitfalls and Perils of Opt-In Accessibility

Posted November 20, 2023


Posted November 20, 2023

A collection of websites, with a red accessibility icon in the center that has a crack through the middle
A collection of websites, with a red accessibility icon in the center that has a crack through the middle

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Some companies make people with disabilities opt into an accessible version of their website. Here’s why that’s always a mistake.

In July, the U.S. Department of Justice advanced a proposed rule to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to websites and mobile apps under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

For the disability community, the proposed rule represents a critical step forward in the push for online equality. For businesses, it clarifies the importance of delivering an accessible experience to every website visitor — and provides a clear target to aim for.

Unfortunately, many businesses still fall short of the ADA's mandate to provide "full and equal enjoyment of goods and services" for people with disabilities.

Some businesses aren't doing anything to address their website's accessibility. Others are taking the wrong approach by creating an alternate, "accessible" version of their website (usually just a pared-down version of the full site) or asking visitors to opt into automated accessibility features.

Neither approach is sufficient — or beneficial to the disability community. In this post, we break down what's so problematic about opt-in accessibility and explain why automated remediations should be part of any comprehensive approach to digital accessibility.

A stylized web page filled with error messages.

The Problem with Opt-In Accessibility

Occasionally, prospects or customers will ask if they can have people opt into our platform's automated accessibility remediations — instead of delivering them to every website visitor.

Our response is always the same. It's possible from a technical perspective, but it's not something we ever recommend. Not only is it approaching a slippery legal slope, but in fact, forcing people to opt into an "accessible" version of a website is a form of discrimination.

In the physical world, people with disabilities don't always have the option not to disclose their disability. If someone is using a mobility cane or wearing hearing aids, it can be a signal to people around them that they have a disability.

The internet is supposed to be different. When we talk to members of the disability community, they often mention how liberating it can be to browse a website or engage with people online and not have their disability be part of the conversation.

By its very nature, an opt-in approach to accessibility forces people to disclose their disabilities to fully access a website — infringing on their privacy and right to non-disclosure.

Alternate "Accessibility" Isn't the Answer, Either

Instead of having website visitors opt into automated remediations, some websites will present a stripped-down, "accessible" version of their website.

In some ways, this approach is even worse than opt-in accessibility. These alternate websites usually lack critical information and features available on the full website, as the quickest path to "accessibility" is often to remove any features or page elements that need remediation.

Not only does this damage the user experience, but it perpetuates an environment where people with disabilities have to make do with less — the opposite of the "equal access" mandate at the heart of the ADA.

By forcing people with disabilities into a separate and unequal experience, these businesses risk not just damaging their brand's reputation but also exposure to legal action under laws like the ADA.

A chart displaying the three levels of WCAG conformance, from Level A (the minimum) to Level AAA (the highest).

How Do Automated Remediations Work?

"Remediation" is the term web accessibility experts use to describe the process of fixing an accessibility issue and making sure it conforms to accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

When a remediation involves a web developer writing custom code, it's called a manual remediation. When it involves an automated platform implementing changes using pre-existing code, it's called an automated remediation.

At AudioEye, we deliver over 1.3 billion automated remediations every day, helping eliminate barriers to access that would otherwise stop people with disabilities from being able to enjoy or access a website fully.

Most importantly, these changes are invisible to users who don't rely on assistive technology to access websites.

Why Do Some Businesses Turn Off Auto Remediations?

Automated remediations are an effective way to resolve common accessibility violations without relying solely on Expert Audits and custom, code-based fixes. So why do some businesses still want users to opt into these remediations?

Unfortunately, there are still a few misconceptions about web accessibility and the impact of automated remediations — none of which hold up to scrutiny:

  • Site Performance: Some businesses worry that automated remediations will slow down their website. However, our automated accessibility remediations have no discernable impact on metrics like page load speed — and can even support improved SEO and other website metrics.
  • Web Design: Some web designers perceive accessibility as an obstacle to be overcome (or ignored). In fact, there's plenty of overlap between the best practices of accessible design and general UX best practices — benefitting not just people with disabilities but all website visitors.
  • Audience: Some businesses mistakenly treat accessibility like an edge case, assuming that only a few users will benefit from these improvements. However, up to 1 in 4 people in the United States has a disability — meaning websites that don’t prioritize accessibility are effectively closing their digital doors to 25% of customers.
Stylized webpage that shows the AudioEye icon and a number of screen reader accessibility errors

Accessibility Is a Fundamental Right, Not a Feature

Regardless of ability, everyone has the right to access information, products, and services online. By its very nature, an opt-in approach to accessibility discriminates against people who can’t browse inaccessible websites by default.

This division goes against the principles of inclusivity and equal access that the ADA guarantees.

So, what can organizations do?

  • Prioritize automated remediations that blend into the background, identifying and remediating many accessibility issues that can disrupt the user experience for people with disabilities.
  • Continue to invest in accessibility education and awareness. Train your teams — from designers and developers to content creators — on the best practices of accessible design.

Digital accessibility should be a given. But in a world where 97% of the internet is inaccessible to people with disabilities, it's clear that plenty of work remains. Automated accessibility remediations can help narrow this gap. But people with disabilities shouldn't have to request them.

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