Web Accessibility Research: Good News, Bad News

By JoLynne Lyon | April 2, 2024
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Higher Education has made great strides in web accessibility over the past decade.
The rest of the world, not so much.

The latest WebAIM Million report is out—and so are some key facts about web accessibility, in higher education and out in the wild.

The good news is that the higher education world has made huge steps in the field of web accessibility, according to award-winning research conducted by a team of researchers including Jared Smith of the Institute for Disability’s WebAIM. They marked several data points from 2012 and 2022 and saw significant—even dramatic—improvement in all of them. (Most notably, 3 percent of pages had page regions in 2012, versus 93 percent in 2022, according to the University of Washington’s Terrill Thompson, who led the study.)

“Predictors of Postsecondary Web Accessibility, 2012 to 2022” was submitted to the California State University Northridge’s Journal on Technology & Persons with Disabilities. It received the Dr. Arthur Karshmer Award for Assistive Technology Research. This recognition goes to the authors of the best science/research journal submission to the CSUN Assistive Technology conference.

Outside the higher ed world, web accessibility progress is much slower. On average, WebAIM detected 56.8 errors per page in its 2024 analysis of the world’s top million websites—more than the 50 errors detected in 2023. The WebAIM Million is a different study, but over the years it has provided data gauging where the world is when it comes to providing accessible web content. Researchers discussed both the journal article and the WebAIM Million study during a session at the annual CSUN conference.

  “Public higher education institutions have been looking at these more broadly, more maturely than some of the groups that we encounter and test for every day,” said Rob Carr, WebAIM’s strategic accessibility coordinator.

That’s not to say higher education homepages are perfect. “It’s still 20 errors on average in higher ed,” said WebAIM director and researcher Jared Smith, “But it’s a lot better than the 50 or so that we find on homepages generally.”

As for the homepages surveyed in the WebAIM Million study, they have become increasingly more complex. And many of the perennial problems with websites have continued: among them are low contrast text, missing alternative text for images and missing form labels.

For in-depth discussion of the research, watch the CSUN presentation featuring Thompson, Smith and Carr. For a detailed look at the WebAIM Million, read the report.

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