Around 1 in 4 adults in the US live with some form of disability. To help uplift their quality of life, there are laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that aim to make more services available to these individuals.
These services include websites and mobile applications, which must ensure that their content and functionalities are accessible to everyone. Healthcare organizations, in particular, must be among those leading the charge to make the web accessible. Considering how they serve many people with disabilities, it is critical for these organizations' websites to have features that would allow these users to access their digital channels without difficulty.
But for this to be possible, websites must adhere to the Web Content Guidelines (WCAG) - a set of standards that, when followed, would make certain that these pages can be properly processed by all user agents and assistive devices. However, compliance with the WCAG can be challenging even with skilled developers. Each site element must be reviewed to check if it complies with the guidelines. All issues that are discovered in these audits must then be fixed. Additional QA testing must also be done to guarantee that nothing breaks when these changes are applied.
Fortunately, artificial intelligence (AI) is emerging as a key technology that can allow site owners to address all accessibility issues easily and conveniently.
"For most of us, the internet has become an integral part of doing things. However, people with disabilities have been left out of this digital revolution. Most websites and apps, including those from healthcare providers, still don't follow web standards that make it possible for assistive technologies to properly process information. To be fair, applying these standards can be quite challenging especially for smaller organizations and site owners. It's tedious and complicated work. So, to make it easy for them, we must be able to leverage technologies like AI to automate the process," notes Shir Ekerling , CEO of web accessibility solution accessiBe.
In a study by accessiBe of more than 10 million web pages, most websites fail to fully comply with the WCAG. Because of this widespread lack of support, 70 percent of disabled Americans say that they don't go online on a daily basis. They effectively miss out on the conveniences offered by the internet.
The percentage of web accessibility failures by type of feature, according to accessiBe's 10 million web pages study.
Interestingly, healthcare websites are among those that have been falling short in implementing web accessibility. This can be quite disappointing since people would expect that healthcare organizations should be the ones promoting accessibility as part of their mission to provide an essential service.
Recently, several cases have even been filed in federal court against healthcare organizations whose websites have failed to comply with the ADA and the WCAG. Companies like WellPoint, HCA Holdings, and Tenet Healthcare, are all facing litigation since their websites aren't usable to those with visual and motor impairments.
People with disabilities have a disposable income of $490 billion in the US alone. Compliance would allow companies to tap into a significant but underserved market. Applying web accessibility standards also provides several tangential benefits for organizations.
To start, accessibility improves a website's usability. Compliant websites typically have better user experiences since their pages are designed to be navigable and their content is easy to understand. In addition, applying accessibility standards can help deliver better optimization and performance which can improve sites' search rankings and visibility.
On the flipside, overlooking web accessibility can have negative consequences for organizations and site owners. Considering the ADA, non-compliance can result in lawsuits and hefty fines and penalties. Facing such lawsuits are not only costly financially but it can also cause irreparable damage to reputation.
To comply with the ADA and WCAG, healthcare organizations must commit to undertake a full audit of their content and code to see the areas in which they fail. This can be a very tedious process when done manually especially if the website has hundreds or even thousands of pages of content.
Healthcare websites typically feature a variety of features and functionalities. They contain essential information about their facilities and services, educational materials in the form of blogs, articles, and videos concerning medical conditions and outpatient care, and directories of healthcare providers by specialization and location.
For these to be accessible, images must have the necessary "alt texts" that would enable screen readers to describe these images to blind users. Video content requires closed captioning. Long portions of texts may also need summaries and language translations especially if they contain highly technical information and jargon.
However, accessibility audits and compliance reworks can take months to accomplish. They are also usually done by high-skilled developers which demand a premium for their services.
This is where AI, as a technology, proves to be beneficial since it can automate all these tasks. Using AI, accessibility platforms can automatically check all the lines of code and content of websites to spot all non-compliant elements. It can then even instantly perform the necessary corrections by automatically inserting the necessary tags. Using image recognition, AI can readily insert accurate alt texts and descriptions. Speech recognition can automatically provide closed captions and subtitles. Natural language processing capabilities allow AI to generate accurate summaries and translations. AI can also determine if all pages, menus, and buttons are functional and navigable.
Since these are all done by computers, an AI-powered platform can help healthcare websites achieve full ADA and WCAG compliance within days. Once integrated, these tools can even automatically apply these standards to any new content that gets added.
"What we love about AI is that it can easily detect and address accessibility issues. What used to take weeks and months now only takes hours and days. The quicker turnaround time needed to convert websites not only means reduced costs for site owners but also minimal exposure to potential ADA lawsuits," Ekerling added.
The internet has become increasingly important in today's world. Everyone must have equal access to these services that the internet can provide. This is why it's critical for organizations and companies that provide essential services like healthcare to make their websites accessible.
Various solutions have emerged to help these websites adhere to the WCAG and comply with laws like the ADA. With these cost-effective tools, healthcare organizations have very little excuse not to work on accessibility. They can now do their part to create an inclusive internet.
"Ultimately, providing accessibility shouldn't just be about widening a customer base or avoiding suit. It's about doing the right thing - something that healthcare organizations should always do. The internet is supposed to bring people together and this involves including everyone especially people with disabilities," Ekerling concluded.