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HomeNewsExpert NotePushing for Accessibility — will Artificial Intelligence and co. be a Game Changer?

Pushing for Accessibility — will Artificial Intelligence and co. be a Game Changer?

An article by Eliane Loertscher, UX Designer at ELCA

What are your thoughts when facing a project where web accessibility has to be ensured? Are you getting excited and looking forward to tackling the issues at hand? Or is web accessibility a necessary burden that you should consider but still dismiss? 

For many, it is probably the latter, or why else are people with disabilities confronted with inaccessible websites and applications daily? There are solid reasons for implementing accessibility right from the beginning of all (digital) projects. Yet, accessibility checkers found the web is still 96.3% inaccessible (WebAIM 2023). As shocking as this number already is, even more issues will be unveiled by testing manually. So, how can accessibility be fostered and achieved? Some have started to use new technology like Artificial intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR)/ Augmented Reality (AR), and the Internet of Things (IoT) in their exciting projects. These technologies have changed how we live, learn and work. Could they also be the game changer for accessibility?

Why look into accessibility now?

It is essential to understand why we should give accessibility the recognition it needs and deserves and to answer the question of this article. Maybe you have noticed an increasing number of talks, reports and projects on accessibility. Among others, the following reasons might be the cause for that:

 

  1. Legal Requirements: Many countries have implemented or strengthened laws and regulations related to accessibility to ensure accessibility which heightened the legal landscape and reinforced the importance of accessibility. For example, in 2022, the EU passed the European Accessibility Act (Directive 2019/882). It requires everyday services and products to be accessible for persons with disabilities (European Commission). In Switzerland, the Federal Council recently decided (March 2023) to better protect people with disabilities against discrimination in working life and access to services (Admin 2023). At the same time, web accessibility lawsuits are rising — especially in the USA. Reasons are -among others — the ambiguous existing accessibility laws in America. As social awareness grows, customers increasingly hold brands accountable with class action lawsuits (Level Access 2022). With stricter rules, the need for accessible redesigns will rise immensely.
  2. Technological Advancements: The rapid advancement of technology has transformed how we interact with the world. Technology is deeply integrated into our daily lives, from smartphones and digital platforms to virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Ensuring accessibility in these digital spaces is crucial to prevent the creation of new barriers and to enable equal participation for all.
  3. Ageing Population: The world’s population is ageing (WHO 2022), and older adults often face physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments that can impact their ability to navigate physical spaces or use technology (W3C 2010). By ensuring accessibility in various environments and products, we cater to the needs of this growing demographic and support active and independent ageing.
  4. Social Awareness and Advocacy: There is increasing social awareness and advocacy around disability rights and accessibility (European Commission 2023). People recognise the importance of inclusivity and push for change in various sectors, such as architecture, transportation, technology, and entertainment. This momentum emphasises the need for accessibility and encourages organisations to prioritise it.
  5. Everyone can benefit from accessibility: Accessibility features such as captions, voice input, and alternative input devices can assist individuals during their recovery or rehabilitation. In addition, these features can also help those facing situational constraints, such as noisy environments. They also benefit those with different learning styles, offering alternatives such as subtitling for visual or textual information, and audio descriptions for those who are blind or visually impaired. By incorporating these features into the design of new technologies, it is possible to expand the boundaries of accessibility and offer a more inclusive user experience for all.

Harnessing new technologies for accessibility

The growing adoption of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), as well as the Internet of Things (IoT), is opening up new possibilities for improving accessibility. These technological advances offer innovative solutions to overcome the obstacles faced by people with disabilities in their use of digital technologies and their participation in everyday life.
 

For example, artificial intelligence has become an increasingly powerful tool for supporting accessibility. AI programs and plugins like ChatGPT are being developed daily, offering features such as automatic captions, instant translations, image and facial recognition, as well as text summaries. These features significantly improve accessibility for people with disabilities, providing them with greater access to information and communication.

 

Similarly, image recognition and description are essential for people using screen readers. Tools and plugins such as Google's "Get Image Descriptions" have been developed to generate automatic descriptions in such cases. Although manually-provided descriptions are often preferable for their accuracy, these automated tools represent a significant step forward in improving online accessibility.
 

Automated accessibility audits are also made possible by the integration of AI. Platforms such as applitools and accessFlow enable designers to carry out automated accessibility assessments of websites. While these automated tools do not entirely replace manual testing, they do provide an initial overview of accessibility concerns and speed up the process of identifying and addressing them.


Finally, the Internet of Things (IoT) offers opportunities to improve accessibility through the combination of intelligent sensors and AI. Projects such as Seeing AI by Microsoft use IoT and AI to analyze the visual environment and transform it into an auditive experience, thus benefiting people with disabilities.

Conclusion

Despite these promising advances, it's important to note that technologies can't solve all accessibility problems on their own. Manual testing and intentional design are still necessary to ensure a truly inclusive user experience. However, by harnessing the possibilities offered by AI, VR/AR and IoT, it is possible to overcome many obstacles and open up new perspectives for a more inclusive and equitable society.

Eliane Lörtscher

UX Designer

Meet Eliane Lörtscher, our Designer specializing in UX. Contact Eliane to discuss how he can help propel your UX initiatives forward.

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