Here’s the sad truth: free accessibility technologies cannot make your site fully accessible.
Using tools with no installation fees is tempting -- but it will cost you heaps of money and other business-wrecking repercussions once you find out your site is surprisingly inaccessible.
Instead, invest in paid, trustworthy solutions that actually do the hard but necessary work of improving your site so it’s truly user-friendly to disabled people.
accessiBe is one such solution. It is the first fully automated, AI-powered web accessibility technology, and the leading one in the market today.
accessiBe is trusted by over 60,000 companies from various industries, such as Pacific Life, BMW, Kappa, Playmobil, Seiko, Miami State Attorney, Florida Bar, Louisiana Department of Health, Molina Healthcare, and many more.
accessiBe is affordable, effortless, and robust. In this article we will go over why free accessibility tools are a no-no and the reasons you can never go wrong with accessiBe.
Introduction: Web Accessibility and WCAG
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the prime organization for developing international Web standards (called W3C Recommendations), defined web accessibility as this:
“...websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities (whether visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, or neurological) can use them. More specifically, people can: perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and contribute to the Web.”
In other words, web accessibility is about making your website, apps, and other outward-facing assets easy for persons with disabilities (PWDs) to use.
To help site owners achieve website accessibility, the W3C, with the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and through a participatory process, created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The WCAG describe how you can make your online content more accessible to PWDs and therefore compliant with various accessibility laws.
This web content refers to any piece of information in your web page or application, including natural information (such as text, sounds, and images) and code or markup defining presentation, structure, etc.
Specifically, WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 are the robust, referenceable, technical standards. They contain 12-13 guidelines revolving around four design principles:
- Perceivable. Users can recognize the information and interface components presented on the site. These cannot be invisible to their senses.
- Operable. Disabled individuals can navigate and interact with the website smoothly. It should not have any interaction that the user can’t perform.
- Understandable. Impaired site visitors can comprehend the content and operation of your user interface.
- Robust. Website content should be sound and can be accurately interpreted by various user agents, including assistive technologies. It must also remain accessible as these user agents and devices advance.
Site owners must ensure their content and interface components have the above qualities.
Additionally, each of the guidelines that are outlined has testable success criteria in three levels: A (minimum), AA (mid-range), and AAA (highest).
AA is the most widely adopted and accepted standard for most accessibility regulations worldwide, such as:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III
- Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Israel Standard (IS) 5568
- Accessibility Canada Act (ACA)
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
- European Accessibility Act (EAA/EN301549), and more.
The Level AA means that your site is generally understandable and usable by the majority of PWDs.
WCAG 2.1 is the latest version of the web accessibility standards, but the 2.2 version is currently in the works.
To make your site accessible, the WCAG standards outline the changes you should make on both your front and back ends.
WCAG requires that you make your website accessible through your design, interface, and frontend development.
- Give enough contrast between your foreground and background. Background colors texts should sufficiently contrast foreground texts. This applies to text on images, buttons, background gradients, and other components -- but not to logos and incidental texts (e.g. text already present in a photo). WCAG requires a minimum contrast ratio (technically, luminance contrast ratio) of 4.5:1, but with exceptions. This guideline assists visually impaired and other disabled users who can’t read brightly colored texts (which have high luminance) and other content pieces with insufficiently contrasting backgrounds.
- Avoid using only colors to communicate. If you’re using colors to distinguish different elements, provide additional indicators that don’t depend on color recognition. For instance, mark required form fields with asterisks, not just red texts. Label graphs with numbers besides varying colors. This helps color-blinded people, who identify certain colors differently, give or identify details correctly.
- Allow users to resize texts. Disabled visitors should be able to resize texts (except image captions) up to 200% without assistive technologies or losing content and website functionality.
- Enable users to adjust text spacing. You should let users increase (and decrease) letter spacing to at least 0.12 times the font size, line height to a minimum of 1.5 times, spacing the next paragraphs to at least twice the text size, and word spacing to at least 0.16 times.
- Write headings and labels describing the topic or purpose. Show clear structure of your website content by using meaningful headings and labels that accurately depict what blind (through screen readers), visually impaired, cognitively disabled, etc. persons read.
- Show the purpose of each link clearly. The purpose of the link should be clear based on the anchor text. Do not use generic, non-meaningful link texts, such as “Click this,” “Read here,” etc.
- Provide mechanisms to define unusual words. Persons with cognitive disabilities, among others, struggle with comprehending idioms, jargon, slang, and other unusual expressions. To support their needs, you should install mechanisms that identify and define such terms readily on your site.
These are only some of the design and user interface adjustments required by the ADA Title III (comprises 30% of the stipulations) and by the WCAG (makes up 20% of the guidelines).
These design and user interface requirements can also be achieved manually but it will take weeks to finish redesigning for accessibility, even months. The whole undertaking can be very time-consuming and tedious especially if your site has several design elements.
Free plugins aren’t going to work either. They might be able to address a good bit of the ADA’s design requirements, but it can’t fully address the backend requirements -- which means the website owner remains non-compliant.
Interface modifications by other free solutions
Other free accessibility solutions offer some or similar to these mentioned features, such as:
- Color, cursor, and content adjustment
- Highlighting headers, links, and focus
- Stop animations
- Text magnifier, and
- Readable font styles.
This set of features, however, is not exhaustive. The design adjustments are often limited to fewer than 15 options.
And because they lack accessibility settings for other aspects of your site’s front end, you’d need to install more plugins -- which eventually slow down your loading time and impede your website performance.
On the other hand, here’s how accessiBe comprehensively and automatically complies with the WCAG 2.1 frontend requirements.
accessiBe’s automatic design and UI adjustments
(You can customize your button’s color to match your company branding, as well as its position on your site, language, load delay, and more. Choose Advanced & Customized Installation and set the Interface Lead Color, Trigger Button Color, and Inner and Outer Focus colors.)
Pressing the button shows a list of accessibility profiles that disabled users can enable according to their needs.
Each profile caters to an impairment category, contains specific frontend site adjustments, and activates automatically once clicked.
To see the changes made when enabling the profiles, we’ll use SnackNation as the sample site, which initially looks like this:
Note that the changes made are saved on the user’s browser cookies and appear only on their devices’ screens. They don’t affect other people’s user experience and view of your site, and the original look of your web pages. The PWDs can also reset the adjustments later on.
accessiBe has the Seizure Safe profile that stops flashing videos, animations, GIFs and other moving visuals, and minimizes color intensity.
This profile helps protect users with light- and photo-sensitive epilepsy and similar disorders -- whose exposure to moving visuals and images with bright, bold patterns and colors (which is practically everywhere on the Internet) can trigger seizures anytime.
When clicked, accessiBe automatically lowers the saturation and stops any animation on your site. The Seizure Safe profile makes your site look this way:
Next, accessiBe has the Visually Impaired profile which aids individuals with degrading eyesight, glaucoma, cataracts, tunnel vision, and other vision-related disabilities.
Enhancing your site’s display, the profile instantly changes font styles to Sans Serif (which are more legible), increases the saturation, and scales the content by 100%.
Your site then looks like this:
accessiBe also has the Cognitive Disability profile for people with Down syndrome, dyslexia, autism, and other cognitive disorders.
It offers features that helps them focus on essential parts of your website more easily, such as highlighted titles and links and frozen animations. It makes your site appear this way:
The ADHD Friendly profile also helps users with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neurodevelopmental disabilities read your content and other significant site elements with fewer distractions.
The profile provides a virtual reading mask (which stretches across the site, moving with the cursor and illuminating only the nearby portions), increases the saturation, and pauses moving visuals, like this:
Besides these profiles, accessiBe has an online dictionary where people with cognitive disabilities, for instance, can look up unfamiliar slang words, idioms, jargon, or expressions.
I typed in “bae” as a sample and the dictionary showed this definition:
accessiBe even lets you revamp your site’s appearance by setting certain enhancements yourself.
Scale your content and adjust your text size, letter and word spacings, and line height. Magnify words, use more readable font styles, highlight titles and links, and change your paragraph alignment.
Here’s how the accessiBe window with those options looks like on the site’s interface:
Modify your colorization also by setting it to dark, high, or light contrast and monochrome, lowering or increasing the saturation, and changing the background, title, and text colors.
For orientation improvements, activate a reading guide, which appears as a thick, blue line and moves with the cursor, to help users with ADHD or cognitive disorders focus when reading your content.
You can even enable a large black or white cursor, highlight focus and hover, a reading mask, and an onscreen virtual keyboard. Mute sounds and hide images as well, among others.
The back end is the more critical part of your compliance with the WCAG 2.1, ADA, and other accessibility regulations.
For backend compliance, WCAG 2.1 points out must-have features or capabilities, such as these ones below:
- Alternative texts for non-text content. All non-text content, such as images, including ASCII art (spatial arrangement formed by character or glyph arrangements), emoticons, etc., should have text alternatives serving the equivalent purposes. Exceptions are CAPTCHA, sensory-intended experiences, purely decorative visuals, and others.
- Functionalities available from the keyboard. Level A compliance requires that all website functionality be operable through a keyboard interface without requiring specific timeframes (with some exceptions; for level AAA compliance, all functionalities are achievable with the keyboard).
- Instructions or labels are indicated for content needing user input. The input object’s relationship to the labels must be programmatically determinable or available in text. Screen readers can read aloud the labels associated with input elements when the focus is on a certain field. Meeting this requirement helps cognitively disabled users enter the right information, among others. Indicating the required fields also stops the person from submitting an incomplete form and having to navigate the form to find the unfinished field and supply the missing details.
- Name, Role, and Value. The name and role of user interface elements can be programmatically determined, and the value that users can input can be programmatically set. User agents, including assistive technologies, can receive alerts on changes to the items. Supplying the name, role, and value information on all user interface components enables compatibility with assistive devices, such as screen readers and magnifiers and speech recognition software programs.
- Focus Order. Users can navigate through your website in a logical, orderly sequence that retains meaning and operability. This prevents people with reading disabilities from disorientation and motor-impaired persons dependent on keyboard access to get to their desired site elements, etc.
- Consistent Identification. Elements with the same function in your website are consistently specified (not necessarily identically). For instance, you can use two check marks: one indicating a completed step, the other an approved request.
These backend adjustments particularly pertain to screen reader optimization and keyboard navigation, making up 70% of the ADA requirements.
If you’re wondering what screen readers are, they are software programs that blind persons use to recognize content on a webpage.
These tools relay content information through text-to-speech engines, so users can hear it through their speakers or headsets.
Screen readers can also convert on-screen texts into Braille characters, even while blind persons scroll down. They can even explain visuals (e.g. photos and images) by reading aloud their alternative texts.
Popular screen reading software include JAWS and NVDA for Windows, Orca for Linux, ChromeVox for Chromebooks, VoiceOver for Mac and iOs, and TalkBack for Android.
Screen reader compatibility and keyboard navigation are also crucial since their incompatibilities with websites are frequent causes for web accessibility lawsuits.
In 2018, federal lawsuits for ADA Title III violations ballooned to 2,258 cases from 814 in 2017 -- a rise of 177%.
These lawsuits claimed that PWDs couldn’t use the sites because they lacked the coding that made them accessible or their assistive technologies, such as screen readers and adaptive keyboards, compatible.
Some famous accessibility lawsuits by blind or visually impaired plaintiffs, for instance (and filed for not being blind-friendly), include:
- Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream by Pharrell Williams;
- beyonce.com by Beyoncé Knowles;
- Domino’s Pizza;
- Kylie Cosmetics by Kylie Jenner
- Nike, Kleinfeld Bridal, Barney’s, Burger King, and over 30 other brands sued by Maria Mendizabal (et. al.);
- oshkosh.com, Levi Strauss & Co., Chick-Fil-A, The Home Depot, Sephora, and 175 more sued by Emily Fuller.
As you can see, if established, international brands are not exempt from web accessibility lawsuits, how much more are small and medium companies?
With that being the case, you should find solutions that go beyond mere interface adjustments, but permit screen readers, voice recognition software, and other assistive devices to work with websites.
Achieving that entails code remediation, which takes expertise and experience -- things that free or cheap accessibility technologies (such as CMS plug-ins, toolbars, and overlays) can’t sufficiently provide.
Let’s explore the reasons in the next section.
The case of free or cheap accessibility technologies
First, let’s define the terms and then discuss how these often-free mechanisms function.
Toolbars are small pieces of code you can integrate into your website. They exhibit various tools PWDs can enable to change the way it looks.
Overlays are automated software solutions, plug-ins, or pieces of code that you can also add to your website to alter its appearance.
The difference between the two is that the former lets users select and apply specific appearance options. The latter instantly implements accessibility fixes in real-time as the website loads and before the content emerges on screen.
The problem with these mechanisms is that they only address the inaccessibility problem at the surface level instead of at the root -- which is your website’s actual code.
Moreover, overlays and toolbars do not resolve accessibility issues on mobile gadgets. They can even override your disabled visitors’ existing assistive devices.
These mechanisms only make your site appear “accessible,” addressing only the design and UI issues, which only take up 20% to 30% of the ADA and WCAG requirements.
What about the remaining 70% to 80%? Unfortunately, keyboard navigation and screen reader optimization are too complex for toolbars and overlays.
These tools may claim to have keyboard focus features, for instance, but these are only a fraction of the mandated keyboard navigation capabilities.
What’s more, when complainants send you demand letters and sue your site, these mechanisms can’t provide accessibility certificates, statements of performance, and legal and technical support to defend yourself.
Overall, the result is that you’re not 100% compliant and still vulnerable to accessibility violation lawsuits.
That is why, to ensure covering the more critical WCAG requirements, there are two robust solutions you can apply.
One is manually coding these adjustments into your website template -- services provided by expert web developers and design agencies.
Signing up for projects with them, however, takes several weeks and thousands of dollars.
You want to make your site accessible at the soonest possible time because visually impaired and other disabled users can visit your site on any day.
When they find your site inaccessible and sue you, chances are the Department of Justice will decide in their favor.
Plus, you can’t defend your side with good faith and promises to execute remedies later. Web accessibility litigations don’t need prior notices or any intent.
If there’s a time you need to be accessible, it is now.
That’s where the other solution comes in, which is more cost-efficient, quicker to execute and finish, but still sustainable: the AI-powered, reliable technologies such as accessiBe.
How accessiBe works out your backend compliance
accessiBe doesn’t only address your frontend adjustments, but also those in your back end. Here’s how it does that:
And the AI doesn’t stop there: it examines your site every 24 hours for website updates (such as new blog posts, etc.) and fixes any accessibility gaps and errors, ensuring your round-the-clock compliance.
That bit is vital since maintaining your accessibility is challenging. You wouldn’t want to consume even more weeks and resources again to fix loopholes when you update your site.
The AI also contextually understands your site’s hierarchy and visually matches your website elements and their functions with those of websites it has previously studied.
The AI is responsible for addressing screen reader optimization and keyboard navigation, the most difficult aspects of WCAG 2.1 compliance.
accessiBe has the Blind Users profile. When enabled, it instantly prompts the blind persons’ screen reading software and makes your site compatible with it.
accessiBe also has the Keyboard Navigation profile, particularly assisting motor-impaired users. When switched on, this immediately alerts PWDs and enables operating with keys and keyboard shortcuts.
Turning on either of these two profiles automatically activates both, since many screen reading software programs also have keyboard-operating functionalities.
Additionally, accessiBe’s AI scans photos and images for any lacking alt tags. It extracts embedded texts with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software and learns the objects through image recognition technologies such as IRIS.
It then automatically adds accurate, elaborate alt tags describing the photo or image. This is what screen readers will relay to blind users.
Allow me to illustrate.
Let’s say you have your social media buttons, such as Facebook and Twitter, up on your site’s header.
If your site is accessible, and the blind person stumbles upon one of those icons, the screen reader can tell the user that it’s a clickable Facebook or Twitter social button.
If your site isn’t accessible or you’re using low-quality accessibility technologies, the screen reader can only relay it as a “link” since it can’t identify what the shape represents other than that it has a hyperlink.
As a result, the blind user has no idea what the icon specifically is.
If he were interested in visiting your store’s social media page, he could have clicked it and interacted with your posts, discovered more products, etc.
On your end, that translates to a loss of potential sales, conversions, and chances to engage and foster your customer’s loyalty.
Thankfully, accessiBe’s AI integrates the right aria attributes, behavioral changes, and tags with your site’s components and functionalities.
Let’s go back to the example on social media buttons. accessiBe’s AI revamps the code, which now looks this way:
The AI now calls the Facebook button, for instance, as “Facebook” -- allowing the screen reader to relay the same thing (and not just “link”) to its blind user.
For images, accessiBe’s AI also adds the right alt tags on the fly within seconds. Take a look at the example below:
To describe the image, the AI indicates what it contains: coffee and fresh fruits on white table.
By accurately relaying the links and describing the images, accessiBe’s AI can help spur your impaired customers to take your offers, engage with your brand and content, and do more profitable activities on your site.
Breakdown of accessibility pricing
Earlier, I said that signing up for web redevelopment projects is expensive because of the manual, tedious labor involved.
Specifically, these services can cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 a year and take three to 26 weeks to finish.
Your compliance depends on the project scope and, sadly, drops to 50% within six months. Requesting them to maintain your accessibility is an additional service (and, therefore, cost).
Free and cheap accessibility CMS plug-ins are no better.
While they have zero to minimal charges, their non-compliance with WCAG, etc. can cost you $50,000 to $150,000 of penalties and settlement fees.
They don’t have a full project turnaround and fulfill only 5% to 15% of the mandated guidelines. Some of them also limit accessibility coverage to a certain number of page views.
These plug-ins cannot maintain your website accessibility and can’t even provide legal and technical evidence and support in cases of litigation.
accessiBe, however, can cut redevelopment costs because of automation and AI-geared capabilities, making your efforts to achieve and preserve your accessibility hyper-efficient and longer-lasting.
Investing in accessiBe costs you at least $490 a year, is compliant with ADA, WCAG 2.1, and more accessibility regulations in other locations, such as Canada and Israel.
The pricing packages are inclusive of all accessibility features and services for your whole website. Each plan depends on your site’s page count -- where a page with a unique URL, including its parameter variants, is considered one page.
Turnaround is 48 hours from installation, and maintenance is, as stated earlier, 24/7. The solution also has the highest success rate in the web accessibility market.
This makes accessiBe the most affordable solution, yet one that proves its integrity.
The right website accessibility tools need a considerable amount of investment, not free -- or they won’t be dependable and high-quality.
‘Pay now or pay later’
In the end, you can get sued if you don't have an accessible site.
If you go for a free solution, your website will not be accessible (despite their claims). So, it’s better to pay a little now and avoid painful lawsuits with steep fines, a tarnished reputation, and customers’ loss.
Keep in mind that no industry operating online is exempt from the legislative mandate to make their websites accessible.
For instance, ecommerce retailers and travel are among the biggest targets and frequent offenders for providing online public service, but that disables PWDs from accessing them.
According to Usable’s 2018 report, online retail shops accounted for 31% of the accessibility lawsuit cases, 14% for the travel and hospitality industry, and 12% for food and services and for the banking and financial sector.
Other offending and continually eyed industries include:
- Academic institutions
- Real estate companies and properties
- Digital media and design agencies
- Insurance firms
- Fitness and wellness studios
- Entertainment and leisure
- Telecommunications, and several more.
No matter what industry you belong to, you want to guarantee your site’s accessibility and be able to prove it. You can only do that by using highly trustworthy, cost-efficient solutions.
Now you know: between free, super cheap accessibility tools and real, albeit paid, solutions -- you must go with the latter.
Toolbars and overlays are only band-aid remedies. They can’t solve all your accessibility issues, particularly those at your site’s back end -- which are more critical to attaining a PWD-friendly site.
You can’t attain web accessibility without spending a worthy investment on it.
Thankfully, you don’t need to break the bank because accessiBe is cost-effective and reliable. Invest in accessiBe now to ensure your website’s compliance.