What’s Next in Digital Accessibility

Website Design & Development

Read Time: 7 Min

Digital accessibility isn’t going anywhere. In fact, its impact has only just begun.

We’ve just started to crack the surface of what accessibility can look like in the digital realm. It’s up to us to continue educating both ourselves and our peers so the digital world becomes a better, safer, and more inclusive place for those with disabilities.

If you’re feeling a bit behind and need to rewind, check out our Digital Accessibility 101 insight, as well as our insight talking about the current state of digital accessibility, because today we are going to look to the future.

Harnessing the Power of Emerging Technology

It’s no secret AI has made an emergence over the last few years. More and more we are seeing its benefits in a multitude of spaces, including digital marketing and website development. AI is and will continue to play a huge role in the changes we will see in digital accessibility over the next several years. For example, we will see…

  1. Automated Captioning & Transcription
    A huge aspect of digital accessibility is taking into account those with hearing impairments or those in the deaf community who rely on visuals and captions to understand content and enjoy digital experiences. With AI-generated speech recognition technology, we are now looking at the ability to have captions and transcriptions automatically generated for videos and audio content. We are starting to see this implemented in real time on software applications like Zoom, which is frequently used for webinars and work meetings. Though the technology is in its infancy, we can expect to see huge progress in the next couple of years.
  2. Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Voice Recognition
    Certain users in the disabled community may be those with physical impairments such as lost limbs or those who are paralyzed. In order to interact with the digital realm, they need a way to communicate with the computer that doesn’t involve typing. With AI-generated NLP and voice recognition, we are starting to see how using your voice to type, communicate, and interact with digital content can be a reality and a game-changer for those who have struggled with finding a way to be present online due to their disability.
  3. Assisted Reading Applications
    Assisted reading applications are great for those with visual impairments such as blindness, low vision, or dyslexia. These AI-generated assistive devices read screen content out loud while also highlighting the text. The system is completely customizable and allows those with disabilities involving their vision to participate, understand, and interact with web content.
  4. Image Recognition
    Assisted reading applications won’t be too helpful for those with visual impairments when it comes to imagery. AI is starting to advance into image recognition to solve this. We’ve seen it with image generation from text and through social media. With this type of assistive tool, AI will be able to interpret an image and provide alternative text descriptions to indicate what the user would be seeing on screen. In fact, at AOR we’ve already been playing around with a program called alttext.ai.
  5. Accessibility Testing
    As we stressed in our last insight of the series, it’s important to test your website a few times a year or at least yearly to ensure you are keeping up with accessibility standards and following guidelines and laws. Luckily, with AI gaining momentum, there are more options available to do this quickly and cost-effectively. We still say manual testing is important as well since AI isn’t perfect and won’t be able to pick up on everything, but it can certainly be a useful tool for your organization.
  6. User Experience Personalization
    All of the above tools can be reconfigured and personalized to ensure an experience that works for each user based on their needs and preferences. With AI and other assistive technologies, websites are alive and working for each user to ensure their experience is comfortable, easy, and accessible.

But why AI?

  1. Complexity
    The internet is a crazy place. Don’t you get overwhelmed sometimes?! It’s important to remember how much the internet has changed over the last 20 years. More than 250,000 sites are launched every day. There’s a lot going on. AI can help simplify the digital experience for everyone, especially those with disabilities. But technology also helps us tackle the changing pace and ever-growing internet. As a developer, having a little bit of assistance from AI can ensure no small mistakes slip through the cracks.
  2. Cost
    This one is easy — manual audits and accessibility checks cost money and take up a ton of time. Most businesses say their biggest hurdle when it comes to website accessibility is the cost. With AI, cost is reduced, time is reduced, and real-time monitoring is used to catch mistakes or issues long before a manual check would.
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Legal Education

We cover the legal rules, requirements, and guidelines in our Current State insight, so we know they already exist, are in effect, and are being enforced. But what about the future? Well, WCAG comes out with an updated set of guidelines every few years and we are expecting a new one sometime this year. But more important than updating the rules and regulations as the complexity and breadth of the internet changes, is public education. Hopefully, the future has more clear-cut legal guidance in store because to this day 90% of websites are still not meeting accessibility standards. More clear outlines, timely checks, and general education are on the horizon.

2023 Trends

  1. Neurodiversity
    Dyslexia, ADHD, and Autism are just a few neurodivergent categories that’ve been largely ignored in accessibility standards and in the disabled community in general. WCAG isn’t great at representing their needs and that needs to change. In 2023, more than ever, people and organizations are interested in neurodiversity and the impact accessibility could have on how they interact with the world. Because WCAG isn’t on top of it yet, it may be worth looking into the guidelines the National Autistic Society put together.
  2. Seniors
    We tend to overthink our senior citizens when it comes to the digital world, especially since they’ve not always been as active in it. As people age, they are more likely to have vision issues and muscular limitations, so accommodating their needs is important too. In fact, it seems as though older people are using the internet now more than ever, most likely because they’ve been around it for a significant period of time. In order to reach their customer base, making the internet usable for them will be beneficial to your business.
  3. Post-Covid Remote Work
    Remote work is not going anywhere! (Which we are here for…) But, that also means more of your employees are online. Whether or not you have disabled employees, you should be ensuring your online communication tools, website, and other digital experiences are accessible to everyone at your company.
  4. Public Statements
    Finally, we are at a point now where it’s morally and ethically responsible to have an accessibility statement on your website. Whether it’s simply stating your stance or the effort you make to be accessible, or if you’re providing educational tools, either way, try to include an accessibility statement on your website to let others know you’re making an effort, and that you want them to feel understood, comfortable and included. See ours for example.

Looking Ahead

It is likely the future of accessibility looks a little robotic. We can expect to see more sophisticated accessibility tools and features being developed, improved user experience, and the utilization of emerging technologies like image recognition, real-time spoken content, automated transcriptions, etc.

Most importantly, we are seeing a shift from looking at accessibility as an added afterthought, to integrating it into the design and development process from the onset. Hopefully, this will allow for more seamless accessibility integration and experiences for the disabled community. Accessibility will continue to be a growing priority for businesses and organizations as they seek to create a more inclusive digital experience for all users.

All in all, the future of accessibility looks like technology and growing awareness. There are good things ahead, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us.

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need some help implementing digital accessibility into your web projects.

Take a look at some of our work. You should be able to see how accessibility has played a role every step of the way.

And remember, although accessibility is a standard and a law, you should do it because it’s just, fair, and because you care.

To learn more about our Thrive initiatives, download and view this document.

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