Over the past year, our journey through the digital landscape has been illuminating. Collaborating with clients across continents and industries, we've uncovered around 1,500 accessibility issues, each shedding light on the path to inclusivity. Among these, our top issue looms large, accounting for almost 40% of the challenges encountered. It's a statistic that underscores the pervasive nature of accessibility barriers, affecting countless individuals navigating the online realm.
Navigating the Accessibility Imperative: Uncovering Digital Barriers
As champions of inclusivity, we recognize that 1 in 6 people globally have some form of disability. Yet, the digital sphere often erects barriers that hinder their access to essential services and products.
While automated tools like WAVE(this will open in a new window) offer a glimpse into digital accessibility, achieving true inclusivity demands a deeper dive. It necessitates manual checks, code inspections, and engagement with assistive technologies. It is also important to involve users with disabilities to understand their requirements based on lived experience. By partnering closely with our clients, we've audited their digital estates against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the latest version (2.2) having been released in October 2023.
Unpacking the Top 5 Accessibility Challenges
Today, we shed light on the top five accessibility hurdles which contravene WCAG criteria that we've encountered across all of our accessibility audits for clients during 2023. These challenges not only mirror the struggles faced by screen reader users but underscore the broader imperative of digital accessibility.
In reverse order, we present our findings.
5th place - Absence of Error Prevention and Recovery Mechanisms (WCAG 3.3.1, 3.3.2, 3.3.3)
When digital interfaces lack clear error identification or provide inadequate labels or instructions, users face challenges in understanding and rectifying errors during their interactions.
For example, if a form field lacks a descriptive label, users may struggle to comprehend the expected input, increasing the likelihood of errors. Without proper error identification, users may also find it challenging to recover from mistakes and proceed with their tasks. This has the potential to exclude a diverse range of users, including those with visual impairments, neurodivergent individuals, and those who may not feel at ease with technology, from accessing the service.
To address this, developers should implement clear and concise error messages, coupled with informative labels and instructions. Ensure that these are provided to all users, visually and programmatically. Opaque error identification obstructs user progression, perpetuating digital exclusion. By furnishing clear instructions and error messages, developers foster resilience and fortify user journeys.
4th place - Unannounced Dynamic Changes (WCAG 4.1.3 – Status Messages)
Dynamic content, devoid of auditory cues, leaves screen reader users stranded as they may be unaware of crucial information or updates. For instance, on attempting to submit a form, the screen may update to reflect error messages or a status update. However, if screen reader users are not informed, they might think that the page is not functional, which could lead to them abandoning the service.
Harnessing ARIA live regions ensures timely communication of updates, empowering users with seamless digital experiences.
3rd place - Inadequate Colour Contrast (WCAG 1.4.3 – Contrast (Minimum) and 1.4.11 – Non-Text Contrast)
Insufficient contrast hampers comprehension, particularly for users with visual impairments. For instance, if text does not meet the minimum contrast requirements, users with low vision may struggle to read or discern the information, leading to a disjointed and frustrating user experience. Similarly, interactive elements lacking sufficient non-text contrast may be indistinguishable to certain users, compromising their ability to navigate and engage with content effectively.
Businesses must ensure that the colour of any text and its background has contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for small text, and 3:1 for large text (18px or 14px bold). Similarly, for non-text contrast, user interface components and interactive elements must have a colour contrast ratio of 3:1. We recommend using colour palettes that conform this this ratio and employing colour contrast analysis tools(this will open in a new window) to verify compliance.
By adhering to prescribed contrast ratios and leveraging colour contrast analysis tools, businesses can democratize access to digital content.
2nd place - Ambiguity in Element Purpose (WCAG 4.1.2 – Name, Role, Value)
Unclear element labelling compounds the challenges faced by screen reader users. Without informative cues, users grapple with functionality, impeding task completion. Empowering developers with comprehensive documentation and rigorous testing fosters clarity and fosters inclusive design.
1st place – Discrepancy Between Visual and Auditory Experience (WCAG 1.3.1 – Information and Relationships)
While sighted users effortlessly navigate content, relying on surrounding content, the position of elements, and the context to quickly identify and understand information, screen reader users often encounter a fractured digital landscape as this information needs to be provided programmatically and in 40% of the issues we found, this was not the case. This is exemplified by:
- Missing headings and non-semantic heading structure
- Landmarks not being identified
- Interactive elements not supplemented with necessary context
- Non-semantic tables resulting in confusing navigation
- Labels not being programmatically associated to corresponding form fields and controls
- Visual text being different to screen reader announcement
These issues result in a frustrating and isolating user experience, as individuals may struggle to access crucial information or engage with online services. They would have to put in additional effort to locate information and complete tasks independently, which may lead to them looking for alternative services.
Ensuring that HTML is being used to specification, understanding screen reader users’ requirements, providing additional context using elements like visually hidden `<span>` and `<label>` tags, and testing with screen readers (such as NVDA, VoiceOver, JAWS, and TalkBack) would help provide an improved experience to blind and low-vision users
Adherence to HTML specifications, coupled with empathetic design, can transform user experiences.
Embracing the Journey of Improvement
By confronting these challenges head-on, project teams champion inclusivity, fostering a digital ecosystem where everyone thrives. Embracing inclusive design principles and prioritizing user experiences heralds a future where accessibility isn't a luxury but a fundamental right.
While automated tools offer a preliminary glimpse, they pale in comparison to human ingenuity. By engaging accessibility professionals and championing inclusive design, we forge a more equitable digital terrain—one where barriers crumble, and possibilities flourish.
In the journey towards inclusivity, let us not merely comply with guidelines but embody the spirit of empathy and accessibility. Together, let's shape a digital landscape where every voice is heard, and every journey is celebrated.
As you reflect on the insights shared, consider how your digital assets stack up against our findings. Do you recognize any of these common accessibility issues present in your websites or apps? Now is the time to take stock and embark on the journey of improvement. By addressing these challenges, you not only enhance user experiences but also uphold the values of inclusivity and diversity in the digital sphere.
Join Us for Low Vision Awareness Month
In recognition of Low Vision Awareness Month, User Vision is hosting a FREE in-house event on Tuesday, February 27th, starting at 2:15pm. Engage with empathy workstations and attend a short talk focusing on low vision/visual impairments. Sign up today and be a part of fostering greater accessibility and understanding. Let's embark on this transformative journey together. Together, we can build a digital world where everyone feels welcome and empowered.
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