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Chris Sigala Posted by Chris Sigala July 21, 2020

How to Support Diversity and Inclusion with Web Accessibility Technology

Are you doing everything possible to ensure your website experience is inclusive and accessible by everyone?  Chances are probably not.

A recent study conducted by WebAIM, the well-known accessibility non-profit, discovered that over 98% of the world’s top one million websites don’t offer an inclusive and fully accessible experience to site visitors. In our modern world the web has become an extension of our lives and is more critical than ever with pandemic disruption affecting offline business. And yet, only 2% of the websites we visit offer an inclusive experience and equal level of functionality for all visitors. While physical spaces – stores, restaurants, parks, and more – have all been designed to accommodate people suffering from various disabilities, the web is lagging behind.

What is Web Accessibility?

Web accessibility means that websites, tools and technologies are designed so that people with disabilities (auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual) can use them.  The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was created to help extend the benefits of technology and the web to everyone, regardless of their abilities, and seeks to eliminate these challenges. Through the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), they have created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) with the goal of providing a single shared standard for web accessibility. Legislation around the globe has adopted the WCAG as the basis for which web accessibility is enforced. 

You can learn more about web accessibility regulations in the United States and around the globe in this accessibility infographic.

Why Should Web Accessibility be a Priority?

Non-compliance with global accessibility can be costly, and there has been a surge in complaints and ADA lawsuits over the last several years.  Nevertheless, there are many reasons to maintain an accessible website beyond compliance, and organizations that take web accessibility seriously have developed a level of trust with their site visitors that positively impacts their brand’s reputation and their bottom line.  Those organizations that have not prioritized web accessibility are missing out on a huge market opportunity:

So why isn’t every website accessible?  The simple answer is that creating and maintaining a fully inclusive and accessible website is complex, and organizations have been slow to adopt practices to address this challenge.  Fortunately, a landscape of technologies and services has grown to simplify website accessibility, and at Crownpeak, we’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the world’s leading brands in helping them achieve a more inclusive and accessible digital presence.

What Options are Available?

The slow adoption of web accessibility best practices is also a function of the relative maturity (or immaturity) of vendors supporting this market.  Some organizations have chosen (implicitly or explicitly) to do nothing and accept the associated legal risk and opportunity cost of this approach.  Others are trying to address this – either through some combination of technology and software solutions or by conducting time-consuming and expensive “audits” with “expert” services to identify the accessibility problems on their websites.

Diagram of options on a cost spectrum

Introducing Digital Quality Management with Auto-Fix

At Crownpeak, we are proud to be at the leading edge of web accessibility, helping make the web a safer and more reliable place. Our Digital Quality Management (DQM) platform helps customers identify issues across their entire web presence with deep scans, enabling the insights needed to formulate a concrete plan for remediation. But there was always a lag between when an issue was identified and when it was fixed, leading to a period of accessibility non-compliance.

Today we are excited to announce a new feature within DQM that helps bridge that gap. Crownpeak Auto-Fix gives site owners the ability to automatically fix certain accessibility errors on their website without any direct action. With the introduction of this new feature, we are taking the next step to automatically action those fixes in the users’ session leveraging artificial intelligence and current web technology.

Auto-Fix is simple to use and easy to implement.  With one line of JavaScript on your website and a few hours of scanning, our technology helps our clients dramatically accelerate web accessibility compliance. 

Benefits of DQM + Auto-Fix

So why combine both features – the monitoring capabilities native to DQM and Auto-Fix? 

We believe this dual-pronged approach to web accessibility is the most effective path towards compliance and customer trust.  We’ve had the benefit of years of experience helping companies address accessibility on their website and as a result we’ve had a unique perspective into the operational and strategic challenges organizations face. 

We know automatic scanning and monitoring a website to identify issues is a core, foundational step to addressing web accessibility but it requires action to fix the issues. In other words, while technology alone can certainly accelerate processes, it’s not a magic wand. 

The reality is the nuances around how certain elements of a site operate and how certain users interact with the site make a pure technology approach suboptimal.  What is needed is human oversight (leveraging a monitoring solution like DQM) to ensure the automatic fixes applied to the site reconcile with the intended outcomes of those fixes. 

The result is a combined monitoring and Auto-Fix solution that delivers compliance fast while safeguarding against potential gaps and discrepancies, packaged together in the industry’s only end-to-end accessibility compliance platform.

 

Diagram of end to end accessibility compliance

 

Let’s review a simple example of what we mean.  Including ALT Text on non-decorative images is a key requirement for web accessibility.  This allows a screen reader to properly identify an image on the website and read out the description so a visually impaired user will understand what the image displays.  We know that while this specific requirement may seem intuitive and straightforward, the inclusion of ALT Text on images is often overlooked by site operators, resulting in a poor user experience and increasing the risk of litigation.

Crownpeak’s Auto-Fix solution leverages AI-driven IRIS and OCR technology to automatically identify if and where an image exists on a website. If the image does not contain ALT Text in the underlying code, the technology will insert ALT Text automatically in the user’s session, without altering or adjusting the underlying code. 

For a user with a disability, this one step results in a dramatically improved experience. However. this alone does not make a site (or even that specific ALT Text issue) fully accessible every time. The problem is that depending on the nature of the exact image – the ALT Text that is automatically inserted may not capture the full essence and intention of the image in every instance, and may read out a description that is not consistent with the experience an able sighted person would receive in viewing that image.  The intended outcome (a consistent and inclusive digital experience) is only partially achieved.

That’s where DQM’s monitoring solution comes into play.  By giving the site operator visibility into where these underlying issues exist, he or she can take the appropriate action (pre- or post-publishing) to ensure the intended outcome is fully realized.  In this example, the site operator would see in DQM everywhere on their website where an image appears without any ALT Text, providing the insight to fix with the appropriate ALT Text for those images.  While that process was happening in the background, DQM Auto-Fix was ensuring visitors on the site did not have a negative experience and leave the site (or, worse, file a legal complaint) – disaster averted, and issue resolved.

Diagram showing alt text

The Web Accessibility Opportunity

Less than 2% of websites are fully accessible.  We want to change that…because it’s the right thing to do and because we believe organizations around the globe are not only exposing themselves to unnecessary legal risk, but also missing out on a huge opportunity to better reach an underserved market segment. We are excited about the future of web accessibility and believe DQM can play a fundamental role in making the web a safer and more inclusive place. 

(If you’re curious to check the accessibility status of your website and find out whether your company might be at risk, sign up for a complimentary accessibility healthcheck).