Website Trends for People with Disabilities
It is estimated that a billion people suffer from disabilities that affect their accessibility to the internet and websites. Blind, deaf and paralyzed visitors need to be able to access internet pages, just like other users. Companies and web developers have to take accessibility into account when designing websites. The main trends that help disabled people access websites are the use of captions, alt text and tags, keyboard compatibility, hands free technology and screen readers compatibility.
The following trends are the result of a round-up of industry websites within the last few months that tackled accessibility design for websites. Most trends were shared by all the websites. In addition to these trends, innovations to help disabled people access the internet by top tech companies such as Google, Apple or Microsoft were also included.
Trend 1 : Captions
Captions help deaf and hard of hearing users enjoy videos by displaying time-synchronized text that can be read at the same time as watching the video.
Many popular apps and companies such as Skype, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Alexa now use captioning to help people with hearing disabilities. The automated closed captions are powered by machine learning, and the technology is spreading to new countries and languages. In Skype, it will be possible to automatically scroll captions during a call, or view them in a side window. This is a feature that is useful for online presentations such as with Google Slides or Skype. Now the user can see the text live with a possibility of many languages and translations as well. The accuracy varies between 80% and 98%.
The inclusion of captions in videos featured on websites is an important way to make it fully accessible to people with disabilities. It has been reported that 71% of disabled people leave a website immediately if it is not tailored to be accessible. Without captions, a person who has a hearing disability would not be able to hear the video or understand the content. Thus, the website experience would be a negative one. Not having captions in videos embedded on websites limitsz their appeal and reduces the target.
Trend 2: Alternative (alt) text and tags
Alt tags are short image descriptions used in the codes of the websites that can be seen by people using a screen reader. These tags help people with a sight disability have an idea of what images are featured on the site using a screen reader. They should be short, creative and accurate to have the best impact. A screen reader can be used by visually impaired people to "hear" what is on a web page, converting text to speech. A good website that is inclusive has alternative text that takes into account whether the image is part of the story or if it is only decorative. Blind users have to be able to understand the whole context of the image, which can only happen with alt text.
Google is actually developing a new AI technology that would be able to describe photos with 94% accuracy. However, so far, alt texts and tags have to be manually entered. Without them, visually-impaired users are not able access to images displayed on a website, and lose out on an important amount of information. In some instances, such as for Instagram, the content is mostly images, and therefore the app would be inaccessible to visually impaired users without this technology. Instagram currently uses AI technology that automatically generates image descriptions, thanks to the ability to recognize objects. In addition, the description also includes lists of items that appear in the photos, and the alt text can be read with the use of a screen reader. These technology improvements allow more than 246 million people with severe visual impairments and 39 million blind people globally to enjoy a better web experience, and give them access to a proportion of the 2 billion photos that are shared each day on social networks.
Trend 3: Keyboard compatibility
Some users with disabilities have difficulty grasping a mouse or keeping their hand steady, and have to rely on a keyboard to surf the internet and navigate web pages. This means that websites have to be accessible without the use of a mouse in order to be inclusive. For example, the "tab" button should allow the user to move from a content area to another easily. It should move from left to right and top to bottom in a logical and intuitive fashion.
Keyboard compatibility is an important issue when it comes to website accessibility, as it is also an issue with blind people, who cannot see the mouse cursor and have to use a screen reader. To pass the accessibility test, users have to be able to navigate the whole website without a mouse and just with a keyboard.
Trend 4: Hands Free Technology
Some people with disabilities cannot use their hands to manipulate a mouse or a keyboard to navigate the internet or a website. A new technology that has been developed by Google to help these people is called lip sync. Essentially, it is a new technology that allows users to navigate the internet using a mouth-operated mouse. Disabled people will be able to send emails, navigate the internet, watch videos, and have greater accessibility to websites thanks to this new device. The technology behind it uses common electronics and 3D printing. This device can be made by Google for $200 each. The company has chosen to give some free samples to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and will make the assembly instructions available online so that other companies can make them.
Trend 5: screen readers compatibility
Users with visual impairment rely on screen readers to have access to websites, and this technology relies on making the website accessible in certain ways. For example, these devices process the content from left to right and top to bottom in a linear way. This means that website layout and design have to be separated. Otherwise, the screen readers won't be able to process the information correctly. Developers should test their website with a screen reader to make sure it is fully compatible and accessible.