In recent years, advances in artificial intelligence (A.I.) have simplified much of the work of accessibility.
A.I. tools can scan websites for potential failures of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and recommend changes. In some cases, remediations can be applied automatically — well-designed accessibility tools can fix markup, color contrast issues, and other common barriers.
Automation can help webmasters create a more inclusive internet. Eventually, A.I. may be able to create accurate alternative text for images or generate accurate captions for videos.
However, we’re not quite there yet. At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we’re excited about the potential applications of A.I., but with an important caveat: You shouldn’t wait for new technology to make your website accessible.
Automated tools improve accessibility, but every tool has limitations
Your goal is to create an accessible website, and automated tools can certainly play an important role in that process.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which publishes WCAG, notes that “creating (semi-)automated tests for WCAG is key to affordable, large-scale research" on the state of web accessibility as a whole. The W3C also recommends using automation as part of a broader accessibility audit, though the organization does not endorse any specific tool.
But ultimately, A.I. cannot exercise human judgment. That’s a problem, because many WCAG criteria require human judgment:
- A.I. can’t tell you whether an image’s alternative text is accurate enough to describe the image.
- A.I. cannot consistently determine whether a certain element should remain within the accessibility tree.
- A.I. cannot decide whether subheadings are accurate enough to describe the content on the page.
- A.I. can determine whether page titles are duplicates, but not whether the titles are useful for navigation.
Eventually, A.I. models may be able to make “decisions" that benefit users with disabilities. But that would require much more complex models — and even when those models are available, they’ll still require oversight from human accessibility experts for the foreseeable future.
You could wait for A.I. to develop new skills. However, that would be a costly mistake. Every website has users with disabilities, and if your content doesn’t provide those people with a pleasant experience, they won’t stick around.
And as we regularly mention on this blog, accessibility isn’t optional. The vast majority of websites have a legal responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations to users with disabilities.
A web accessibility demand letter may arrive at any time
In 2022, the number of web accessibility lawsuits increased, and we expect the trend to continue in 2023.
Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) require businesses to make reasonable efforts to provide accessible experiences — that generally means following WCAG.
And while most lawsuits are settled out of court, they’re still expensive. According to one estimate, the cost of resolving a typical web accessibility demand letter is around $25,000, including the costs of remediations.
If you receive a demand letter, you can’t argue that you were waiting for better technology. You’ll need to improve your content — otherwise, you may face additional lawsuits.
Many accessibility issues are easier to prevent than fix
As technology improves, web accessibility remediation might become easier. However, remediation is a last resort: The better option is to plan for accessibility by creating truly inclusive experiences for your users.
When you think about accessibility when designing your content, you’ll create cleaner code, reducing the long-term costs of web development. You’ll consistently provide the features that your audience expects, which can lead to better user retention and a stronger brand image.
Ultimately, you’ll spend less money over time while enjoying more of the benefits of an accessible website. If you wait for new technology, you’ll continue building your accessibility debt — and the longer you wait, the more you’ll need to budget for the improvements.
Related: What Is "Accessibility Debt"?
Start testing your website for accessibility as soon as possible
New technologies will change the internet in profound ways, and A.I. has already improved web accessibility. For years, we’ve recommended a hybrid approach to accessibility testing that combines automated analyses with overview from human experts.
That approach limits the cost of an accessibility initiative while helping your organization build a sustainable, self-sufficient approach. By taking the first steps today, you can create better content for your users — and you’ll be in a great position to take advantage of new technologies as they become available.
Get started with our free website analysis, which tests content against the Level A/AA requirements of the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1). To learn more about our hybrid approach to web accessibility, send us a message.