People around the globe made huge changes in how they interact with each other for nearly two years. Many had to make major changes in their daily lives. Some of these changes could make everyday tasks that many people take as a given more difficult for those who require accessibility or accommodations.
An Harris Poll found that more than half (50%) of Americans increased their online activity due to the pandemic. This number rises to 60% for those with disabilities.
However, everyone can achieve their goals despite the increase in online activity. What impact does the crisis have on accessibility? Is it finally happening?
Awareness of accessibility is on the rise
Has it ever felt like accessibility and people with disabilities are everywhere you turn in recent years? Many ads on TV from Big Tech companies feature people with disabilities or accessible technology.
Apple began with the first prime time ads on network TV, followed by Microsoft with an advertisement during America’s biggest game. A Google Ad shows a deaf man calling his son to use the Live Caption feature on his Pixel phone for the first time. Amazon also has an advertisement about Brendan who is a deaf employee.
Evidently, accessibility awareness is growing. Apple, Google, and Microsoft announced a series of updates and resources in May to help people with disabilities access their products. This was in recognition of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. DAGERSystem has announced the Accessible Games Database. It is now available. Gamers can search for accessible games on any platform. They can filter accessibility by audio, visual, color, and fine motor categories.
It is great to see tech companies talking about accessibility and even making it part their marketing budget. It’s important to know the difference between talking about accessibility and actually doing something about it. This requires action.
A recent Forrester survey showed that 81% of 10 companies are committed to digital accessibility. Is there any real change? Is it possible to access websites without any barriers?
Is the increase in internet usage a boost to accessibility?
This is the question that the 2021 Accessibility Report (SOAR), report was created to answer. SOAR’s purpose is to evaluate the accessibility situation across industries and companies. It is a tool that allows you to see what accessibility has improved and what still needs work.
The report uses Alexa’s top 100 websites to analyze accessibility. Instead of focusing on volume, the report is focused on the most popular digital products. The top is where most change happens. The rest of the world will follow if things get better at the top.
Here, the Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) applies. The top 20% of digital products will have about 80% of traffic.
It is interesting to note that Alexa top 100 listed 31 websites in 2021, which are not among the top 100 in 2019 or 2020. Only 60% of websites that were tested on the Alexa 100 List in 2019 made it onto the 2021 list.
It’s easy to see the effects of the pandemic on online behavior by looking at the Alexa top 100 websites. Many productivity apps were found on the top websites, including file transfer and collaboration tools as well as delivery services and communication tools such Zoom and Slack.
Video platforms are a clear example of how the pandemic affected their accessibility. Closed captions in particular were a major issue. Except for Skype, no other video platform had automatic captions as of April 2020. Skype’s captions were not of the best quality.
Google Meet has added captions as of May 2020. Zoom was at the time beta-testing automatic captions. They initially limited it to paid accounts. Zoom granted permission to make it accessible to free accounts through a petition. It took eight months for this to happen.
Microsoft Teams’ iOS app, which was released in June, allowed anyone who wasn’t on the Teams network (except for those with captions) to use it without cost. This is a good start. To be easily accessible on video platforms, captions are not enough. They must be accessible without the use of a mouse. The platforms must also provide transcripts in addition to the captions. The transcripts and not the captions are what make the platforms compatible with screen readers or refreshable Braille devices.
Here are the top results of the Alexa Top 100 Website Testing:
- 62% of websites were accessible by screen readers. This is an increase from 40% in 2020.
- Each page that was passed must have the “lang” attribute.
- Only 11% of the websites that were tested showed errors in input field label labels.
- Most common error was using ARIA.
- Color contrast is the second most frequent error.
The screen reader testing of Alexa’s top 100 websites demonstrated a significant improvement over the 2019 and 2020 testing.
What about mobile apps? One study found that 88% of respondents spend at least four hours on mobile internet. SOAR first tested mobile apps due to the high use of apps and the interest in accessibility. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 included 10 success criteria for accessibility for mobile devices.
Mobile analysis examines the top 20 apps that are free for iOS and Android, as well as the top twenty paid apps. It was surprising that paid apps were more easily accessible than free apps.
The accessibility of the main features of free apps was tested by 80% of iOS apps and 65% of Android applications. Only 10% and 40% respectively of Android and iOS apps were able to access the main features of paid apps.
Why is this? Why is this? A product’s number of users is a sign that they are more likely to be requested and given feedback about accessibility. Many of the companies behind these apps are large tech companies who have made accessibility a top priority.
While it’s great to see digital accessibility improve, companies must keep up the good work. The best way to achieve that is to have everyone buy in to accessibility. It should be part of your culture.
Building an accessibility-first culture takes time. It takes time. Each step is progress. It doesn’t matter how small the first step is, it is important to do so. This could be as simple a matter of teaching employees how to add alternative text to images. Perhaps you could teach others how to properly use headings.
To develop muscle memory, it will take time and practice. You can conquer any obstacle and move on to the next. SOAR 2021 reports that many companies have mastered alternative text and headings. They are still struggling with color contrast, ARIA and other aspects. Maybe that’s the next step.
Accessible products require that people with disabilities are involved throughout the process. Before you can create the minimum viable product, it is important to involve people with disabilities. Hire people with disabilities to ensure you always have experts.
Lack of education and training is the main reason behind many of these gaps in accessibility. Training is essential for all employees, not just product developers. Even though a website can be created by the development team, all the hard work of the marketing department will be ruined if someone posts a video without captions or a graphic designer creates images with low contrast or a PDF file that isn’t accessible.
Everyone is responsible for accessibility.