9 Hot Digital Accessibility Trends
for 2023

Last month we held our annual webinar where I talked through my thoughts on the key trends for accessibility for 2023.

The webinar gives me a chance to reflect on the last 12 months of what I’ve seen and heard happening across the accessibility field and think about how things that are shifting could provide opportunities for organisations to do accessibility in better ways, for larger audiences, and greater returns.

That’s what I shared in the webinar. It’s well worth an hour of your time to watch it for free here. But if you want to get an overview, here are my top trends in accessibility for 2023…

Where are we?

Good news: digital accessibility is on the rise. In January 2023 11,000 people have accessibility in their job title on LinkedIn, compared to 9,700 this time last year. More and more companies are looking for great people to help them make accessibility happen.

However, ‘State of Accessibility Scores’ from the likes of automated test tool vendors like WebAIM and Web Almanac show a very small increase in the accessibility of web pages in last 12 months.

We should be encouraged by the first statistic; and shouldn’t be disheartened by the second.

Automated tools can only test about 30% of what’s needed for a site to be WCAG compliant. So, using that score, on one page of an organisation’s website on one day of the year, as the measure on how good the company is at accessibility is not really robust. It’s possible that lots of organisations massively improved their sites’ accessibility in the 70% of WCAG success criteria that the tool didn’t check. Or that companies focused most of their accessibility efforts this year on the accessibility of internal tools for staff with disabilities, or on the accessibility of their social media communications.

This is the reason we focus on accessibility maturity at Hassell Inclusion. Public-facing websites are important. But many of the opportunities available to organisations investing in accessibility are more to do with their ability to recruit diverse workforces, sell accessibility improvements to potential clients of the SAAS tools they create, or prove they can be trusted to deliver accessibility in all communications they create for government departments that absolutely require it.

There’s a lot of money being spent on accessibility in 2023. Here are some of the trends, opportunities and solutions to make sure your organisations spends it in the right places for you to get great return on that investment…

1. Neurodiversity

People and organisations are becoming more and more interested in Neurodiversity. UK mental healthcare provider Clinical Partners’ ADHD self-assessment form was completed by 254,000 women in 2021 – 33 times the number in 2019. “Dyslexic Thinking” became a recognised LinkedIn skill, after years of being championed by Richard Branson.

What does this mean? Your digital platforms need to be designed for neurodiverse staff and customers. WCAG isn’t currently great at representing their needs. But, if you look further afield, guidelines we created for the National Autistic Society are already helping many companies understand how to design for these important audiences.

2. Older People

It shouldn’t be new news that the population is ageing. However older people, who might not have wanted to use digital in the past, are now using it a lot more than they used to, especially shopping online. Older audiences could be your most lucrative consumer segment.

Research shows online stores are cheaper for audiences to use than physical stores. And it’s likely that all audiences will be looking to spend money more wisely in the economic downturn. So, the question is, can they spend their money with you, through your online shop?

3. Remote work is here to stay

Whether you love it or loathe it, hybrid working is now the reality for much of the workforce. And, for many people with disabilities or Long-Covid, its flexibility can be preferable than having to commute into an office, or a necessity if you’re more clinically vulnerable.

So ensuring accessibility is embedded in the procurement of all your digital communications and tools could be one of the most important things you do this year for your staff. You may have delivered accessibility well for your customers, but have you talked with your Procurement team about accessibility yet?

4. Accessible SAASes and Vendors

Due to this increased focus of organisations in accessibility for their staff, SAAS vendors are improving their accessibility practices and sales-patter.

So how do you separate the good tools from the also-rans? The question you should be asking is: how well do the vendors do this? Not just when you buy tools, but over the whole license period you’re signing up to. Is their great VPAT score a one-off, or are they going to maintain the level of accessibility they’ve achieved? Check out 5 questions to ask them, to see how they do.

5. Shifting Attitudes & Commitment to Delivering Accessibility

We’re predicting further increases in accessibility commitment at Senior/Board level this year. Our research shows that only 36% of companies have top-down commitment so far. But with DE&I employment commitments and consumer promises becoming integral to brands, and more people being employed to deliver digital accessibility, there is an increasing pressure for digital accessibility to be represented at Senior level. This is great news, as top-level budget, accountability and ROI monitoring will further ensure accessibility is well-funded, well-planned and delivered efficiently.

Think about how you will discuss your Digital Accessibility Maturity with your stakeholders. Our Digital Accessibility Scorecard and State of Accessibility Maturity Report are a great place to start.

6. Accessibility and AI

New device categories are growing. But most organisations still have plenty of time to assess whether their digital services need to be available, and accessible, in the Metaverse or in an EV. And most assistive technologies are already good enough for people with disabilities on desktop and mobile.

No, the key tech which we’re all talking about is AI. Whether you’re considering using GitHub Co-Pilot for code generation, Midjourney for design, or ChatGPT to write your articles, the one thing you should consider is whether their output has your values at heart. A quickly created widget, design or blog may save you time, but if it’s not accessible it may also lose you up to 40% of your audience. How will your organisation check new tech innovation delivers accessibility before betting the farm on it?

7. Accessibility Standards

WCAG 2.2 is arriving much slower than planned, but it’s almost here. And, with the bigger bang of WCAG 3.0 many years away, should you review it?

Is WCAG 2.2 adoption essential for you in 2023? Will you be forced to do so by new laws and regulations? Or is 2.2 too late and too watered-down to provide better experiences for your users who need it? Could a focus on neurodiversity be a better place to spend your time? Or the accessibility of the kiosks you may have in your stores, or on your reception desks?

8. Embedding Accessibility

More and more organisations are recruiting people into growing accessibility teams to deliver accessibility as a Centre of Excellence, rather than something done piecemeal across the business. But most teams are struggling to get good at embedding accessibility in how their processes and teams work; from motivating staff and setting clear responsibility, through to embedding accessibility in agile product development, and using it as a tool for continuous improvement and innovation. Accessibility is as much about business change these days as it is colour-contrast.

So what can you do to help yourself? Understand where you are right now using our Scorecard which is linked to the ISO 30071-1 Accessibility Standard. You’ll find out your strengths and weaknesses, and where best to focus improvement efforts to suit your business goals and plan to move forwards. Take the Scorecard now.

9. Education of Vulnerable people

Finally, while the access needs of consumers aren’t really changing, I still don’t think enough organisations have let people with these needs know about the assistive technologies available for them to get the most out of the accessible sites and apps they’ve created.

If your site’s accessibility statement doesn’t provide sign-posting for your users to find information on assistive technologies, it’s worth updating it. And if you haven’t got an accessibility statement at all, it’s worth creating one to engage in a dialogue with your users. It’s amazing some of the great insights that can come from that. If you need help with this, let us know.

I hope this summary has been useful. If you’d like to get more detail, you can find the webinar recording on our free resource site, HiHub, here: access the full webinar here.

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