enterprise

IBM upgrades web accessibility tool for finding and fixing issues


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IBM has rolled out an update to its open source web Accessibility Checker tool to make it easier to find and fix accessibility issues. The upgrade is designed to coincide with Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), which falls on May 20.

To recap, IBM last May launched the Equal Access Toolkit, which is basically a set of guidelines giving enterprise developers all the data they need to embed accessibility into their applications, across planning, design, development, and the final launch. Part of this toolkit is the open source Accessibility Checker, which automatically checks a website’s accessibility credentials against a set of standards — it not only identifies what’s wrong but details why and how it can be fixed.

Multi-scan reports

Available via GitHub and through a Chrome and Firefox extension, IBM has now added a new multi-scan report feature that scans an entire website or application automatically and compiles all the results into a single Excel spreadsheet.

As before, any “violation” of a web content accessibility guideline (WCAG), which may include video without captions or color schemes that don’t meet contrast requirements, is flagged alongside the recommended remediation.

Above: Multi-scan report: violation

But now users can store multiple scans to include in a single report, which contains a summary of the violations and review recommendations, the percentage of elements without violations, and an issues overview that helps users prioritize which problems they should focus on first. Issues are categorized by severity, with level one being the most pressing.

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Users also have more extensive filtering options, which allows them to view the results by role, requirements, violations, recommendations, and more.

Above: Multi-scan reports in accessibility checker.

Opportunity

As the pandemic has pushed companies to embrace digital transformation, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of making online services accessible to as many people as possible.

For context, roughly 15% of people globally — or around 1 billion people — live with “some form of disability,” according to World Bank data. While making websites fully accessible for everyone is, of course, the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense and represents a huge market. “If people with disabilities were a formally recognized minority group, at 19% of the population, they would be the largest minority group in the United States,” noted a 2011 report published by the Institute on Disability (IoD). This is why technology companies across the spectrum have been putting more focus on the accessibility of their products, with Netflix, GoogleFacebook, and Microsoft investing heavily in tools that make their software usable for more people.

Moreover, IBM is far from the first tech company to open-source accessibility tools — Google has previously open-sourced Accessibility Scanner for iOS.

While IBM hasn’t name-checked any companies using its Accessibility Checker, Si McAleer, IBM’s accessibility program director, told VentureBeat that industries such as finance and telecommunications are particularly in tune with the importance of accessibility in their products.

“Teams understand that it is much more expensive to fix things after products are released,” McAleer told VentureBeat. “It is much more cost-effective to design them with inclusion in mind right from the start. They have been using the Equal Access Toolkit to see how they can shift the conversation left and intentionally make their interfaces accessible right from the start. If they design a new way for a customer to access their banking information or their cell phone plan, the institution needs to make sure that the path or experience is accessible as the customer logs in, accesses their account details, and then takes action on the account.”

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McAleer added that IBM is seeing some uptake in industries that “traditionally haven’t focused on accessibility,” such as oil and gas.

The rules that power IBM’s Accessibility Checker tool have been developed over the past decade and were “created to handle common examples referenced by the standards,” though McAleer said the rules are continuously updated to align with new standards and scenarios it encounters.

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