DesignNavigating the Future of Digital Accessibility
Navigating the Future of Digital Accessibility - 85SIXTY agency

Navigating the Future of Digital Accessibility

In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, accessibility remains a pivotal aspect of web development and design. The recent Level Access Webinar held on May 1, 2024, shed light on the current state of accessibility compliance and the challenges that businesses face in this area. As the President of a digital agency catering to manufacturers and consumer brands, I found the conversation particularly relevant and insightful for our own current practices.

Insights from the Accessibility Webinar with Level Access

The Growing Importance of Compliance

The webinar highlighted that compliance is not just a regulatory requirement but a market-driven one. In the EU, for instance, there could be 27 different implementations of accessibility standards, indicating a complex landscape that organizations must navigate. This complexity is mirrored in the U.S. where buyers are increasingly expecting vendors to meet stringent accessibility standards. Such expectations are now common in RFPs, especially from tech and software vendors.

The Role of AI and Automation

A significant portion of the webinar was dedicated to the role of AI and automation in enhancing accessibility. While AI technologies like chatbots and self-serve kiosks are becoming ubiquitous, the webinar revealed that 80% of these could be powered by automation. However, the remaining 20% require human intervention to ensure accessibility, underscoring the need for a balanced approach to automation. The first generation of these tools is unlikely to be fully accessible, which calls for deliberate planning to include use cases for customers with disabilities. The reality is that capturing the 20% involves context & nuance from a human being.

Business Leaders’ Perspective

Interestingly, 75% of business leaders acknowledge the importance of prioritizing digital accessibility but face challenges due to competing demands. This statistic is a clear call to action for businesses to find innovative ways to integrate accessibility into their operations without overwhelming their resources. (source: “Fifth Annual State of Digital Accessibility Report: 2023 – 2024“)

Impact on Web Metrics

From an agency perspective, implementing accessibility can significantly impact website metrics such as time on site, engagement, and conversions. These metrics are crucial for our clients in the manufacturing and consumer brands sectors, where digital presence directly influences consumer behavior. When thinking about what level to target, WCAG 2.1 AA is a good one. Since WCAG 2.1 is a 30% expansion from WCAG 2.0, the expansion effort for WCAG 2.2 is a significant level of effort. Consider a hybrid approach in targeting WCAG 2.1 AA and identify the appropriate elements of WCAG 2.2 that are achievable and align with your customers’ needs.

Managing Accessibility at Scale

The webinar also provided practical tactics for managing accessibility more efficiently at scale. These include:

  • Testing Automation: Combining heuristic/human judgment with machine learning to identify accessibility issues.
  • Specific Issue Remediation Automation: Tools like Userway can automate the fixing of specific issues such as ALT text, labeling, and headers.
  • General Issue Remediation Automation: Looking ahead, the use of co-pilots and chatbots for general issue remediation is promising, although still 5-10 years out from being fully effective. There is still human context & judgement needed here.

Legal and Procurement Considerations

Another critical aspect discussed was the liability in choosing third-party plugins or modules, which is critical if you are leveraging an ecommerce platform like Shopify or Magento. The responsibility lies in not just installing these tools but ensuring they meet accessibility standards like WCAG 2.1 AA. Adding accessibility requirements to procurement agreements can provide recourse and ensure compliance. In addition, you want to review their VPAT and decide if it inspires confidence. These third party certifications can provide their most recent audit.

Conclusion from the Accessibility Webinar

The insights from the Level Access Webinar are invaluable for any digital agency or company committed to excellence in digital accessibility. As we continue to serve our clients in the manufacturing and consumer brands sectors, these learnings will guide our strategies and implementation, ensuring that our digital solutions are not only innovative but also inclusive.

This adaptation of the webinar into our practices is not just about compliance; it’s about leading the charge in creating a more accessible digital world, one project at a time.

Written by

President at 85SIXTY and outdoor adventure enthusiast

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