At the end of February, WebAIM analyzed the home pages of the top 1 million websites to get a picture of the current state of accessibility on the web. If you haven’t heard of WebAIM, they’re a non-profit organization that helps businesses and nonprofits make their own websites accessible to people with disabilities.
The results of the analysis of the WebAIM Million are overall pretty disappointing. 97.8% of the home pages analyzed contained detectable failures. It’s important to keep in mind that the errors detected are just the ones that can be found automatically by software scanners – so it’s likely that there were failures on these home pages that could not be detected through this testing method.
Passing automated tests is a nice benchmark, but a site can pass those with flying colors while still having significant accessibility issues – a topic we can dive into another time.
For the most part, there isn’t anything about libraries and frameworks that is expressly inaccessible. Many of the bigger and more popular libraries and frameworks even have their own accessibility teams that advocate for better accessibility and campaign for awareness of accessibility best practices.
That’s not the fault of the libraries and frameworks themselves – just the way they get used.
Reason 1: Used by popular CMS’s
Popular CMSs, like WordPress, include libraries and frameworks like jQuery, jQuery UI, and Backbone out of the box. That’s great for theme and plugin developers who want their customers to be able to build highly interactive websites without knowing any code. But it also means that folks who don’t know much or any code at all are using these libraries and frameworks extensively. Sometimes the theme and plugin developers provide a way for site owners to build sites in an accessible way, but not everyone will understand how to do so. Other times, the theme and plugin developers overlook accessibility completely.
Reason 2: Less experienced developers
Reason 3: Low budgets and tight timelines
It’s a running joke among web developers that every project has the same deadline and budget – as quickly as possible for as little money as possible.
If you need to turn around a project quickly on a low budget, you have to cut some corners. It’s just a fact. One of the ways to get a jump start on a project is to start with a framework or library. It can be a huge leap forward, cutting hours, days, or even weeks off the development time of a website or application.
But if things are moving quickly and with little wiggle room in the budget, one of the things most likely to fall to the wayside are accessibility best practices. Even if you choose a library or framework with accessibility features built in, there isn’t likely to be time to make use of them.
Reason 4: Lack of awareness and training
Even experienced developers don’t always know how to implement the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or how to use WAI-ARIA. There are a couple reasons for that. First, this content isn’t often included in web development courses and curricula. Second, many web developers are self-taught, and don’t know what they don’t know. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions floating around in the web development community that can make it challenging to convince developers that accessibility is important, worth learning, and worth implementing.
But let’s not put all the blame on web developers. Sometimes web developers who are knowledgable about accessibility and eager to implement it on the projects they work on meet resistance from project managers, website owners, clients, supervisors, or business development professionals who aren’t convinced that accessibility is worth the effort. There’s a lot of work to be done to raise awareness and convince people that digital accessibility is a civil rights issue.
How do we improve?
Hopefully, you’re asking yourself what you can do to make things better. That’s great, because accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. Take some inspiration from Ethan Marcotte, who recently wrote an article exploring the results of the WebAIM Million. Find one thing you wish you understood better about accessibility and start learning. Check out Digita11y’s Accessibility Toolkit for helpful resources to guide you on your way. You won’t become an expert overnight, but set a goal that each project you work on will have better accessibility than the one before it.
A great place to start might be looking at some of the most common accessibility failures in the WebAIM Million and learning how you can fix those. Ironically, the most common are some of the easiest to fix – low contrast text, missing alt attributes on images, empty links, missing labels for form inputs, missing document language, and empty buttons. Learn how to avoid those and move on from there.
Focusing on accessibility is a thing you can do in your job as a web developer every single day to make life better for millions of people. You can give them access to websites, information, and helpful applications that they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.
Arm yourself with the information needed to convince others that this is a task worth doing. And hopefully the next time WebAIM analyzes the top one million home pages, the results will be much better.