Access Denied: Most U.S. Websites Lack Inclusive Design, Research Says

Access denied: most U.S. Websites lack inclusive design, research says

by Vik Bogdanov — 3 years ago in Development 4 min. read

Nowadays, over a billion people live with some form of disability, which corresponds to around 15% of the world’s population.

In the United States alone, over 61 million people, or one in four adults, have a disability that impacts major life activities. Over 40% of American adults aged 65 and above have one or more disabilities.

Predictions say that by 2035, as many as 78 million adults in this age group will have had one or several disabilities, and this will account for 20% of the U.S. population. 

The numbers associated with disability are quite striking, and so is the fact that the vast majority of such people still can’t enjoy web accessibility.

New technologies are evolving rapidly, millions of dollars are invested in R&D projects, drones and driverless vehicles deliver goods, artificial intelligence (AI) beats humans in board games.

And at the same time, many visually and hearing impaired or quadriplegic people are still left behind, as the Internet remains highly inaccessible for them. 

In October 2018, the Department of Justice made it clear that all websites must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

With this in mind, accessiBe, an AI-based automated web accessibility platform, analyzed more than 10 million web pages and concluded that 98% of the scanned web pages in the United States failed to pass the ADA compliance test. It means that as of today, almost all of the analyzed websites are exposed to lawsuits.
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The State of Inclusive Web Design in 2020

Using Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, the accessiBe research team checked websites accessibility with such assisting tools as a screen reader, a keyboard, and other assistive technologies.

The research found the following percentages of web elements that failed to comply with WCAG 2.1:

  • 98% of menus,
  • 89% of pop-ups,
  • 83% of buttons,
  • 76% of icons,
  • 71% of forms,
  • 52% of images, and
  • 22% of links.

ADA compliance level of different web design elements in 2020. Source: accessiBe

According to ADA, if any of these guidelines isn’t adhered to, the entire website becomes non-compliant.

accessiBe’s verdict is that today’s Internet is in a very poor ADA compliance shape, restricting millions of people from full or partial use.

To better understand the current web accessibility compliance landscape and the implications of poor compliance for business and other areas, I’ve reached out to Shir Ekerling, Founder and CEO of accessiBe.

How to Encourage American Businesses To Be ADA Compliant

How to help U.S. companies increase awareness of ADA and WCAG compliance and implement an inclusive-design-first approach to building digital solutions? 

Shir Ekerling (S.E.):

American companies are already aware of ADA compliance because of the need to provide accessibility in physical locations such as stores, malls, and restaurants.

So it’s that same approach, same thinking process, just in the online world. Many U.S. companies don’t realize that websites are an extension of their business and therefore must also be ADA compliant, albeit, according to different guidelines, that pertain solely to the web.

My advice would be to start with the user in mind, always. Work with people with disabilities, and not just for them

By following the WCAG and combining design efforts with real-time feedback and consultation with people with disabilities, you’ll not only be compliant but will also have long-lasting benefits for your site.

What actionable steps can companies take now to make immediate improvements to the accessibility of their website?S.E.: First things first, gain clarity. Web accessibility is not binary. There’s a possibility that your website already has accessibility elements that you may not be aware of or your website may need to be completely remediated.

The best way to know it is to run an audit on your website using a free testing tool such as aCe. It takes seconds and is free and private.

Once you have this clarity of your website’s compliance status, you can decide your next steps. The report you receive from the audit can be used by your internal development team to implement the changes, or you can use an automatic web accessibility solution.

Web accessibility solutions come in all shapes and sizes, many of which don’t offer full accessibility and thus full ADA compliance. Here is where you need to be careful!

My tip is to make sure that your website’s back-end, which enables screen reader optimization and keyboard navigation, is being addressed by your chosen web accessibility solution.

Not only are these the most important accessibility adjustments that need to be made but are also the source of most web accessibility lawsuits. 

Does a high website compliance failure rate mean that marketers aren’t getting correct or complete data about online behaviors of their users with disabilities and are, thus, making wrong conclusions and decisions that can result in lower revenues and wrong user acquisition strategies?

S.E. : There are many elements to consider when examining customer experience online. Accessibility is one of them.

Wrong conclusions can be made when the data itself doesn’t consider accessibility. For example, we’re used to thinking that if someone leaves a website, it’s because they aren’t interested in the product or offer. But for people with disabilities, it could be the exact opposite.

The website may be offering exactly what they want, but due to accessibility issues, they may be unable to view the product or complete a purchase.

It would help marketers gain a better understanding of this community if the data showed this consumer behavior. Furthermore, the buying power of people with disabilities is roughly $500 billion, so assuming your website isn’t relevant to people with disabilities is a financial risk you shouldn’t take.
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How to take today’s market for assistive technologies to the next level? What’s required for this? 

S.E. : The best way to approach the advancement of assistive technology and expand its adoption among business owners is to tap into the awareness of accessibility.

I say “tap into” because it already exists. Providing people with disabilities with accessible options is already ingrained in the physical world, so the challenge lies in translating that onto the web. This increased awareness and adoption will lead to more active users and real-time feedback.

By using technologies such as machine learning and AI, we can keep on improving assistive technology by keeping up with the needs of people with disabilities, learning what’s working and what’s missing, and working side by side with these communities to deliver more and better accessibility options.

Wrapping up, think about accessibility from the beginning of your website development project, test early and often. Like any other bug, the accessibility issue becomes more expensive to fix later.

Vik Bogdanov

Vik Bogdanov is a tech marketer and digital storyteller covering topics around AI, machine learning, web accessibility, growth hacking, and more. He finds inspiration in interviewing corporate and tech leaders and sharing their stories with the rest of the world.

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