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Use Caution with Automated Tools that Promise 100% Accessibility Compliance

Aug 23, 2019

Automated accessibility testing tools, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and code-scanning technology, can be an important part of an accessibility testing plan — but, they must remain just a part. Automated testing on its own should not replace manual testing by an accessibility expert and should not be used as the only way to show compliance.

Nothing can be 100% accessible

Our mission is to bridge the digital divide by helping companies achieve, maintain, and prove digital compliance through accessibility, yet we will be the first to tell you that there is no such thing as achieving 100% accessibility. A website or app is accessible if people can use it, so 100% accessibility would require that every single person can independently use every single feature.

Absolutely, every effort should be made to build and fix websites so they're usable for people with disabilities to the greatest extent possible and we believe business owners are responsible for making this happen. But, will there be somebody at some time who has trouble using or reading something, despite adhering to best practices like those outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)? Yes, of course.

Check out how we approach this with our Letter of Reasonable AccessiblityTM and 24/7 Accessibility Support.

People, not machines, use websites

At the end of the day, it won't matter much if an automation says a website is accessible — if people can use it, it is accessible; if people can't use it, it is not accessible.

Keeping this in mind, something that AI determines is accessible could fall short, and vice versa. If an automated tool detects that an image has alt text, a violation won't show up on a report; however, only a person can decide if the alt text is sufficient or accurate. 

As technology advances, there are even image-recognition programs that can with some accuracy guess what an image depicts and generate alt text. On one hand, it's incredible that this technology exists. On the other, it presents an additional layer of review required by human beings. The real purpose of an image in the context of a web page, the real feeling somebody is supposed to be exposed to, the real information conveyed by an image can't be decided by a machine — at least not yet.

People have subjectivity, expertise, and finesse that AI can't duplicate.

Automated testing is valuable

The goal of this information is not to diminish the value of automated accessibility testing and compliance solutions — their speed alone make them a useful part of accessibility testing plans — but rather to urge caution on relying on them as the only way of testing and fixing websites for accessibility compliance.

Use automated scans to get a sense of key accessibility areas that might have issues, absolutely. Use automated scans to find patterns across a large number of pages. Use automated scans as part of an ongoing accessibility monitoring process. But, please, don't use automated scans on their own. Website visitors, including those who consider lawsuits due to inaccessibility, won't care if a machine says content is usable, only that they can use it.

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