Accessibility awareness is on the rise, but is it turning into action? – TechCrunch
For almost two years, people around the world have made massive adjustments to the way they interact with the world. It forced a lot of people to change their daily behaviors. Unfortunately, some of these changes would make day-to-day tasks that many take for granted intimidating for anyone requiring accessibility or accommodations.
Harris poll finds more than half of American adults have increased their online activities because of the pandemic. This number rises to 60% for people with disabilities.
The increase in online activity does not mean that everyone is capable of achieving their goals. So what kind of impact is the crisis having on accessibility? Do organizations finally understand the importance of accessibility?
Accessibility awareness on the rise
Over the past few years, have you felt that everywhere you look there is something about accessibility or people with disabilities? Many TV commercials from major tech companies featured people with disabilities and accessible technology.
Apple started with the first prime-time network television ads, followed by Microsoft, with an ad during America’s Biggest Game. In a Google ad, a deaf man calls his son for the first time using the caption live on his Pixel phone. And Amazon has an ad for Brendan, a deaf employee.
Clearly, accessibility awareness appears to be growing. In May, in honor of World Accessibility Awareness Day, Apple, Google and Microsoft announced a host of updates and resources related to the accessibility of their products. DAGERSystem announced an upcoming accessible games database, which is now live. Players can now search accessible games by platform and filter accessibility by auditory, visual, color and fine motor categories.
It’s great that tech companies are talking about accessibility, promoting it, and even making it part of their marketing budget. But there’s a difference between talking about it and taking action: talking about it doesn’t make a website accessible. It takes action.
A recent Forrester survey found that eight in ten companies are working on digital accessibility. So, is anything really changing? Can people use websites without barriers?
Has increased internet use improved accessibility?
This is the question the 2021 State of Accessibility Report (SOAR) set out to answer. The purpose of SOAR is to assess the current state of accessibility in businesses and industries. It is a tool to find out what has improved in terms of accessibility and what needs to be improved.
The report has traditionally obtained accessibility metrics by analyzing the state of accessibility on Alexa’s top 100 websites. The report focuses on the most popular digital products rather than volume. Change almost always starts from the top. When things improve at the top, the rest will follow.
The Pareto principle, known as the 80/20 rule, applies here. You will reach around 80% of traffic with the top 20% of digital products.
What’s interesting is that the Alexa Top 100 listed 31 new websites in 2021 that were not in the top 100 for 2019 or 2020. Only 60% of websites tested on the Alexa 100 list in 2019 were on the 2021 list.
Looking at the changes and today’s top 100 Alexa websites, it’s easy to see how the pandemic has changed online behavior. The main websites contained a lot of productivity apps like file transfer and collaboration tools, delivery services and communication tools like Zoom and Slack.
Speaking of video platforms, it’s clear that the pandemic has had a big impact on their accessibility, especially where closed captioning comes into play. As of April 2020, none of the video platforms had any impact on their accessibility. Built-in automatic subtitles, except Skype. Unfortunately, the captions on Skype were not of the highest quality.
Google Meet added captions by May 2020. At that time, Zoom was beta testing automatic captions. However, they initially rolled it out only to paid accounts. Through a petition, Zoom agreed to make it available on free accounts. It took about eight months for this to happen.
Around June, the Microsoft Teams iOS app made it possible for people who weren’t on the Teams network to use it for free with captions. It’s a good start. However, video platforms need more than subtitles to be accessible. They must be navigable without a mouse. In addition to captions, platforms must offer transcriptions. Transcripts, not captions, are compatible with screen readers and updatable braille devices.
With that, here are the top test results of Alexa’s Top 100 Websites:
- Of the websites tested, 62% were accessible to screen readers, up from 40% in 2020.
- Each page is passed to have the valid document “lang” attribute.
- Only 11% of the websites tested had errors in the labels of the input fields.
- The most common mistake was using ARIA.
- The second most common mistake was color contrast.
In short, the screen reader tests of Alexa’s top 100 websites showed a marked improvement over the tests of 2019 and 2020.
What about mobile applications? A study found that out of four hours spent on the mobile internet, 88% of respondents reported spending that time on mobile apps. Given this high application usage and the accessibility community’s interest in application accessibility, SOAR tested mobile applications for the first time. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 added 10 accessibility success criteria for mobile devices.
Mobile analysis examines the top 20 free apps for iOS and Android, as well as the top 20 paid apps for both operating systems. The biggest surprise is that free apps were much more accessible than paid apps.
When testing the accessibility of key features of free apps, 80% of iOS apps and 65% of Android apps passed. Regarding the accessibility of the main features of paid apps, only 10% of the main features of iOS apps and 40% of Android apps were successful.
Why the disparity? Free apps have significantly more users than paid apps, as Statista shows that over 93% use free apps for Android and iOS devices. The more consumers a product has, the more likely consumers will be to request and provide accessibility feedback. Additionally, many of the companies behind free apps are big tech companies that have made accessibility a high priority.
Where do we go from here?
It’s exciting to see advancements in digital accessibility, but businesses need to stay on track. One of the most effective ways to do this is to take a top-down buy-in approach to accessibility. Make it part of the culture.
Now, building a culture of accessibility does not happen overnight or even in a matter of months. It takes time. Every small step is progress. The key is to take that first step, no matter how small. It can be as simple as teaching everyone in the company how to add alt text to images. Or maybe on how to use the appropriate titles.
It will take a lot of practice to build muscle memory. Once you’ve conquered one thing, you move on to the next. According to SOAR 2021, many companies are proficient in alt text and titles. But they struggle with color contrast and ARIA. It might be the next step.
Creating accessible products requires the involvement of people with disabilities throughout the process. Yes, before building this minimum viable product. Better yet, hire people with disabilities so you always have experts available.
The reason for many accessibility gaps is the lack of education and training. Companies need to train everyone, not just the product development team. The development team can create an accessible website, but all that hard work will be compromised the minute a marketer posts a video without a caption, a graphic designer creates an image with low contrast, or the sales professional posts a. PDF file that is not accessible.
Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility.