Laws are in place; policies are published; subject matter experts are increasing every day; commercial and non-profit organizations are auditing, consulting and certifying. All are towards the one thing called web accessibility advocacy. Given these factors in 2019, has the accessibility of websites matured? Let’s find out!
The WebAIM One Million
In as recent as February 2019, WebAIM at www.webAIM.org published a study that specifically focused on evaluating the accessibility of one million home pages of a million sites mentioned in Majestic Millions List. This study was conducted using WebAIM’s Wave automation API and other tools. Despite automation tools being able to detect only 25% of accessibility errors as claimed in the study, the facts and the results are quite striking and interesting.
Interesting Facts from the Study
As mentioned earlier, the study used Wave automation API to detect accessibility errors based on WCAG 2.0 AA conformance. The study chose the home pages as they are ‘Gateway into the sites’ and a home page can tell you a lot of the rest of the site.
When it comes to WCAG failures, here are the results in short:
- 85% of the home pages fail color contrast
- 68% pages fail missing alternative text for images
- 58% fail empty links
- 52.8% of pages fail missing form labels
- 33.1% pages are missing document language
- 25% of pages fail empty buttons.
The facts do not end here. The study predicts that the users with disabilities would encounter error in one in every 13 elements that they engage with in the home pages themselves.
Further narrowing the results, the pages were categorized using their domains and thus narrowing down to the countries. In this, sites with .gov, .edu, .us which are affiliated to the federal government fair better as they are monitored continuously. .org fairs much better than .com(s). Also, the study suggests that the sites from countries like Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Australia and Canada stand out better than their counterparts like Russia and Italy.
In general, the use of ARIA outpaces the use of native HTML elements like images and headings. But this doesn’t mean that the home pages are accessible. On the contrary, the home pages that use ARIA extensively average 11.2 more detectable errors than their counterparts. This is not to blame the presence of ARIA but the misuse or the abuse of it.
All in all, the study presents an abysmal state of the web accessibility maturity of the web world. The haunting fact is that 97.8% of home pages have detectable errors which are likely to be WCAG 2.0 failures. If this the state that faces us just out of automation, one could imagine how it would be if the manual test results come out.
The fact that 85% of pages fail color contrast suggests that the designers and style guide creators never concentrate on readability and viewability of their home pages which is far from accessibility. Then there are other factors like missing alternative texts, meaningless alt texts, unstructured headings, keyboard navigation and above all the use of ARIA replacing the native HTML mark up. This concludes that organizations are not yet ready to bake in accessibility in their web pages, web apps and their products. Even if they do so, the designers don’t design with accessibility in mind; further, developers don’t use semantically appropriate language markups; testing for accessibility errors is not part of SDLC and to top it all all of these entities lack the awareness of accessibility itself.
To conclude, the woods are not lovely but dark and deep. In the maturity of accessibility, there are miles to go before all of us sleep!
Read the complete study here: WebAIM Million
- About the HTML Epidemic, WebAIM “Million” Report, and Teach Access
- What we can learn from the “WebAIM Million”
- What the WebAIM Million analysis says about the web you’re building