Website Accessibility: An AI-Powered Solution

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Over a billion people, about 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability (World Health Organization). According to the CDC, one in 4 U.S. adults – 61 million Americans – have a disability that impacts major life activities, impacting mobility, cognition, hearing, vision and more.

Disabilities can make it difficult to access digital content. People with disabilities rely on assistive tools and technology to navigate the web, and websites need to be optimized to be accessible via assistive technology. For example, a person with a vision impairment may use a screen reader to browse the Internet, and a website needs to be properly structured and include certain elements to be accessible via a screen reader.

What is Web Accessibility?

In general, web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can navigate, understand, interact and contribute to the Internet.

Closely linked to usability, web accessibility benefits all Internet users as the same guidelines optimize websites for smartphones, smart watches and TVs, different input modes, fluctuation in Internet speed and bandwidth, temporary disabilities (such as a broken wrist), and changing abilities due to age for example.

For more information on web accessibility, view W3C Web Accessibility Initiative.

What are the laws and guidelines?

There is a standard for accessibility guidelines that consists of a set of requirements for web designers and developers to build accessible websites for all audiences.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, also known as WCAG, is maintained the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). WCAG 2.0 was released in 2008, and WCAG 2.1 which was released in 2018. These are considered international standards for web accessibility; for example, WCAG 2.0 is also an ISO standard: ISO/IEC 40500.

Many countries have laws for web accessibility, and require government and public sector websites meet certain requirements. These accessibility laws protect the rights of people with disabilities on the Internet. Federal courts have ruled website accessibility falls within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by lessening commerce and business barriers for those with disabilities. In essence, websites that are not accessible could be considered as discriminatory against people with disabilities and may be subject to heavy fines for noncompliance.

WCAG 2.0 (AA) is widely viewed as the relevant standard, endorsed by the U.S. Department of Justice. In Europe, the accessibility directive was accepted by the European Parliament in 2016 and updated in 2018, requiring websites and mobile apps managed by public sector organizations be accessible to people with disabilities by meeting the requirements of WCAG 2.1.

While the laws are currently geared to public sector websites, other businesses have already initiated a practice of maintaining the same standard. As reported by Seyfarth Shaw, approximately 2,250 ADA Title III federal lawsuits related to website accessibility were filed in 2018, 277% the amount of federal lawsuits filed in the previous year with no signs of slowing in 2019 and 2020.

What goes into making a website accessible?

Designing and developing a web accessible website depends on different components of the site’s structure, meta data, layout and design. For example, some key criteria include:

  • Alternative text for images
  • Proper use of Headers
  • Transcripts for audio and video
  • Forms, buttons and navigation ease-of-use
  • Layout and functionality conducive to keyboard navigation
  • Content and display requirements

Many websites require an audit or analysis to confirm whether it meets criteria, and highlight issues that need to be resolved. Adhering to standards likely requires design and development resources that can make necessary changes to the website’s design, structure and back-end.

Maintaining accessibility

Websites need constant updates to engage visitors, stay current and improve online visibility. SEO experts recommend frequently updating website content to help search rankings by prompting more frequent site crawling.

There’s a risk once website owners undergo the effort to update their website, that they lose their level of compliance as new content, sections and functionality is added. For most businesses, these types of updates are handled by the website owner or staff, and the changes do not undergo automatic accessibility adjustments and lead to “accessibility gaps”.

Website owners pay thousands of dollars every year for these services to humans to go through and fix these issues.  This costs time and money and doesn’t protect against all gaps in coverage which a potential website visitor, customer, lawyer or competitor may expose as a potential ADA lawsuit.

Deluxe Accessibility Engine

Our product group is working on integrating and testing a solution for website owners to maintain web accessibility. This AI-powered solution helps make web accessibility simple, automatic, immediate and affordable, in compliance with the WCAG 2.1, ADA, Section 508 and other worldwide legislation.

The Accessibility Engine is unique in that it helps ensures full accessibility and compliance at any given time, even on websites that update daily. Once integrated into the individual website, it scans and analyzes the website every 24 hours to identify elements and functionality, and automatically adjusts for assistive devices like screen readers and keyboard navigation. It also supports UI and design adjustments to meet the needs of every user on content and display, color and contract, sounds and more.

Customers can opt to get a monthly professional compliance audit to confirm their website is compliant. The report also highlights any PDFs or videos on the website that the website owner should consider making ADA compliant.

It’s extremely cost-effective, compared to professional accessibility services that charge anywhere from $5000-$50,000 per year and take weeks to implement. Other accessibility plug-ins do not meet complete compliance standards (WCAG 2.1), are not automated with powerful technology, and do not include maintenance or ongoing compliance.

Are you a small business service provider looking to differentiate and grow revenue? Partner with Hostopia to bring in-demand, value-added services to your portfolio.

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