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Accessibility failures are costing NZ businesses potential sales

Dr Chandra Harrison, Contributor. 27 September 2021, 9:58 am
Accessibility failures are costing NZ businesses potential sales

This first monthly post for Tech blog introduces a recent research study by Access Advisors who tested the homepages of the top 1000 non-government websites in Aotearoa for basic accessibility problems.

We found that 97.5% of the websites had at least one failure against WCAG2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1) checkpoints that can be tested automatically. 

This is bad news for Kiwis with access needs, those who rely on assistive technology and people who struggle with websites because of poor interface design. These people can be excluded from accessing products, services and information. The research shows that businesses in Aotearoa have a long way to go to make the web more accessible for all.

Kiwi businesses need to consider accessibility when designing and developing digital platforms. With an increase in the use of digital technologies - information and communications - digital accessibility needs to be top of mind. The current level of digital transformation and reliance makes improvement vital.

Our lives are increasingly digitally focused, whether its shopping, banking, education, healthcare, and now with COVID seeing more people working, educating and socially distancing at home, we need to ensure everyone has equitable digital experiences.

A missed opportunity

On top of that, this is a missed opportunity for New Zealand businesses. If people with access needs are excluded from buying products and services then businesses are missing out. And we are not talking about an insignificant amount of people affected either. With approximately 24% of kiwis having some form of permanent impairment, many more undiagnosed or undeclared issues and many others with temporary or situational impairments, this equates to more than a million people in New Zealand, with millions of dollars of missed business opportunity.

Access needs include visual, hearing, cognitive, physical, language issues that aren't always accommodated in mainstream activities. Accessibility is not limited to people with disabilities; it can affect anyone, from those with permanent access needs to those with temporary, situational or dynamic access needs.

It's not only people with permanent disability needs that we are talking about. For example someone with a broken arm trying to shop online (temporary) or a mum nursing a baby while trying to access her emails (situational). All these situations need consideration when designing and developing digital technology.

Common errors identified in the research include low colour contrast between text and background colour; hyperlinks that don't have useful text making it harder to use screen readers or speech input; images that don't have alternatives that can be read out by a screen reader; webpages that don't have a language tag so the screen reader knows how to pronounce the content properly; and buttons that don't have proper text available which makes it difficult for screen reader users.

Easy fixes

But the news is not all bad. The research shows that if businesses were to fix just the top few issues their websites would be significantly better. In turn this means better revenue and reduced customer service costs and better reputation. If businesses paid more attention to ensuring the colour contrast between text and background met the minimum requirements, adding alt text to their images, properly labelling forms etc, accessibility would improve significantly and potential revenue would be gained rather than lost.

Six of the websites tested had more than 300 errors on their home page, 60 websites had more than 100 errors on their home page and 293 websites had 10 errors or less on their home page. Further details about the research can be found on Access Advisors' website.

The research was conducted by myself and the team at Access Advisors with support from InternetNZ and Deque.com. Access Advisors plan to rerun the test of the NZ1000 in 2022 to see if there are any significant changes.

Most common issues

- Poor colour contrast
- Links lacking discernible text
- Alt text for <img> elements missing
- Repeated ID attribute values
- Missing language attributes
- <iframe> and <frame> elements
- Buttons lacking discernible text
- Form elements not having labels
- Repeated ID attribute values for active elements
- Aria-hidden elements have focusable elements

Top critical issues

- Alt text for <img> elements missing
- Buttons not having discernable text
- Form elements not having labels
- Selected elements not having an accessible name
- Aria roles not containing the correct child roles
- ID attributes are not unique
- Aria roles not having the correct parent element
- Aria attributes not having valid values

Dr Chandra Harrison is the managing director of Access Advisors, a leading New Zealand owned and operated digital accessibility consultancy.


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