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How Digital Agencies Can Leverage AI to Promote Web Accessibility

Web accessibility is widely being pushed to finally allow people with disabilities to use and enjoy the World Wide Web. Aside from efforts by advocacy groups to promote inclusion, laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the European Accessibility Act (EAA) now actually require websites and mobile applications to accommodate the disabled.

However, many sites still fall short in implementing the necessary changes to become accessible. Accessibility platform accessiBe conducted a study of over 10 million web pages and found that very few websites actually comply with accessibility standards and laws.

Even established companies have been found to be remiss in making sure that their digital channels can cater to the disabled. Pizza chain Domino’s, for example, has been the subject of an ADA lawsuit in which the company lost the verdict for non-compliance with accessibility standards.

And only yesterday, RadioShack has been slapped with a lawsuit.

To solve this problem, it’s important to encourage companies that actually drive web development to exert more effort in promoting compliance with accessibility standards. Digital agencies, in particular, have become instrumental to the growth of the web. Companies and individuals looking to establish their digital presence but have little technical expertise, tap these agencies’ services to help them conveniently build and publish their websites.

Digital agencies can have hundreds, if not thousands, of websites under their care. The larger site building platforms even boast of having millions of published sites using their technology. Should accessibility become core to these agencies’ approach to web development, the sites that they build would readily be able to accommodate users with disabilities and special needs.

Fortunately, they can now turn to accessibility tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to implement accessibility remediation at scale.

Compliance is a challenge

Accessibility, even for digital agencies, can be a challenge. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outline the necessary principles and success criteria that would allow websites to become usable and accessible to people with various disabilities.

These include provisions for navigability using assistive devices, content that can be interpreted properly by screen readers, and options to tweak colors and font sizes to aid visually impaired users. Its current iteration (version 2.1) also contains additional success criteria for mobile accessibility and support for users with cognitive and learning disabilities. It’s recommended for site owners to achieve at least Level AA compliance levels to the WCAG to be able to address ADA concerns.

Unfortunately, making sure that websites meet these requirements can entail quite the effort especially for those existing ones that already have hundreds of pages of content and contain rich media such as images, audio, and video. Each webpage, including all the content and code, needs to be reviewed for compliance. The audit alone, when done manually, can take from a few weeks to several months to accomplish.

Once a comprehensive audit is performed, site owners then have to perform remediation where each issue that’s identified must be addressed. This may also entail the introduction of new features and functionalities, requiring the involvement of web developers and designers.

For agencies, another challenge is performing these tasks to scale especially if they cater to high traffic websites that feature dynamic content. Not only will audits take time to perform but they also have to ensure that sites experience minimal downtime during remediation and when introducing new accessibility features.

Leveraging AI

Digital agencies can look toward new technologies to achieve compliance. The aforementioned accessiBe, uses AI to make the process of audit and remediation quick and easy.

Users only need to integrate a single line of JavaScript into their websites and it automatically adds an accessibility panel that immediately enables features for visual customizations. The platform’s AI then scans the entire website and automatically makes changes to the site’s code to perform all the other necessary remediation for compliance.

Among the key features that accessiBe introduces to websites are:

Visual tweaks. The accessibility panel allows users who have visual impairments to increase or decrease font size, change font type, and improve spacing and color contrast.

Animation control. Some sites also feature animated elements such as image sliders and effects. These can sometimes trigger epileptic attacks in those who suffer from the affliction. Users can instantly turn animation off through the panel.

Image recognition. The AI also performs image recognition on images and automatically adds “alt texts” which can be used by screen readers and assistive devices to describe these visual elements to blind users.

Navigation. Users with impaired mobility also often need special input devices to navigate web pages. These devices often rely on keyboard-based navigation where using the TAB key shifts focus on each section or field in a logical and linear fashion.

Dictionary. Users can also readily access a dictionary allowing those with cognitive and learning disabilities to make sense of technical terms and even slang.

The platform essentially provides digital agencies a scalable, efficient, and effective way for their client’s sites achieve accessibility compliance quickly. As they apply the technology to all the sites under their care, the more accessible the web simply becomes.

Accessibility can benefit everyone

Digital agencies are in a prime position to influence wider web accessibility. The business landscape demands that companies should at least have a website for their digital presence and many businesses rely on digital agencies for their web development needs. By making accessibility a core development principle, each site that they publish will inevitably be compliant.

This brings about benefits for all stakeholders. First, people with disabilities will be able to conveniently access these websites and enjoy what these companies offer. Second, agencies will be able to provide more value to their clients by ensuring that their sites are compliant. Lastly, accessibility will allow site owners to not only effectively engage the underserved market of people with disabilities but also simply do the right thing

Bogdan

Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.