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Why AI Widgets Aren't the Solution for Website Accessibility
Why AI Widgets Aren't the Solution for Website Accessibility
Pete Zimek, CAE avatar
Written by Pete Zimek, CAE
Updated over a week ago

This article draws heavily upon insights shared by Samantha Evans in ASAE Collaborate. Known as the "Accessible CAE," Samantha is the Certification Manager for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, a division of G3ict. She is a prominent voice who regularly speaks on accessibility within the association space. Follow Samantha's work on LinkedIn.

In recent times, the digital landscape has seen the emergence of AI-powered widgets claiming to revolutionize website accessibility. These widgets often promise easy fixes for making websites usable for people with disabilities while boasting about achieving compliance with standards like WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). However, there are critical reasons why such widgets are not recommended for ensuring true accessibility.

1. The Illusion of Accessibility

Deceptive Marketing: Many of these widgets utilize deceptive marketing techniques, supported by venture capitalists aiming to monetize claims of website compliance without human intervention.

Equity and Access: Accessibility isn’t just about meeting technical standards; it’s about equitable use and access. Any layer or overlay that stands between a disabled user and the content actually obstructs access instead of facilitating it.

2. Overpromising and Misleading Claims

Font Solutions for Dyslexia: Claims of selling fonts that solve dyslexia mislead the public. Dyslexia is a processing disability, not a visual one. No single font has proven universally helpful for dyslexic readers.

Limited Effectiveness of AI Testing: AI-based testing widgets might identify some technical errors, but they lack the ability to determine usability, relevance, or context. They can, at best, address a fraction (30-40%) of code-based issues.

3. Fundamental Limitations of AI

Built-In System Features: Many of the functionalities offered by these widgets—such as font size, color contrast, magnification, stop motion—are already integral parts of operating systems and browsers. Users of assistive technology often have these settings customized to their needs.

Inadequacy in Handling Multimedia: AI falls short when it comes to providing comprehensive accessibility features for multimedia. It cannot generate alt-text for graphs, captions for videos, or ensure the creation of accessible documents.

What Does this Mean?

While AI widgets may promise convenient solutions for website accessibility, they fail to address the core principles of genuine inclusivity. Digital accessibility is not a one-size-fits-all problem; it demands nuanced, human-centered solutions that consider diverse user needs and experiences.

For a truly accessible website, it's crucial to engage in best practices recommended by accessibility experts, prioritize human evaluation and testing, and foster an inclusive design mindset from the outset. Remember, accessibility isn’t a checkbox to mark—it's a continuous journey toward creating an internet that is genuinely open and accessible to everyone.

In an ongoing effort to make our customers' websites more accessible, Novi AMS works with Denise Páne of Access Design Studios. Her team conducts periodic audits of the themes used to create our Novi customer websites and provides our engineering and product design teams with actionable feedback. While few websites can claim to be "100% accessible," our team is committed to consistently march towards that goal.

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