Keynote - Sir Tim Berners-Lee: The Future of the Web and Accessibility
The keynote was delivered by none other than Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). He told the story of how the world wide web was meant to be a universal medium from the start. He stressed the importance of a centralised body – for accessibility, it’s the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – in a decentralised space such as the web to define protocols and specifications and guidelines.
In particular two thoughts stood out from the keynote, the echoes of which have stayed with me. One, he expressed his desire for systems built for the world wide web to be built so that they connect people who are slightly different from each other. And two, considering our present reality, he stressed the importance of compassionate systems for a time such as 2022.
Day 1 - Joe Devon: The State of Accessibility Report Findings
The highlight of the first day of talks was Joe Devon’s “The State of Accessibility Report Findings”. Appreciative of statistics and data-driven processes, I was very eager to hear more about the “2021 State of Accessibility Report” from its creator, who happens to be the founder of Global Accessibility Awareness Day as well!
Joe Devon started out the talk with a simple goal setting: “I want the good news to make you happy and the bad news to make you angry enough that you’re inspired to take action”.
Bad news is sadly rather easy to come by in the accessibility industry. Joe Devon drew on “The WebAIM Million” report from 2021, which sums up the results of an accessibility evaluation conducted on the home pages of the top 1 million websites. The report shows that only around 3% of the analysed home pages did not have detectable failures as per the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) current version (WCAG 2) at the time.
On the bright side, the State of Accessibility Report (SOAR) shows an underlying positive trend! The group behind the report has been for the past three years conducting their own analysis, with a reduced dataset of the Alexa Top 100 websites. Websites were grouped into three groups: accessible, accessible with difficulties and inaccessible. The data shows that the percentage of sites from the dataset rated as accessible has gone up from 29% in 2019 to 40% in 2020 and 62% in 2021! Great news! From this, they conclude that the top tech companies – as the analysed data set of the Alexa Top 100 websites were naturally bigger players – seem to have been improving accessibility considerably over the past years! Though the fact that there is an enormous drop off in accessibility as we go beyond the biggest tech companies – as Joe Devon states – casts a dark shadow on this positive trendline.
Day 2 - Hector Osborne Rodriguez: Is e-Commerce Intentionally Inaccessible?
On the second day of the conference, the talk I was most intrigued to hear about was on e-commerce, presented by Hector Osborne Rodriguez, Front End Development Manager at Microsoft. He mentioned that the last two years of the pandemic have led to a considerable increase in the use of online stores, which is why e-commerce is such a relevant topic these days. Another reason why I found the topic very interesting is that it has particular relevance for us here in Europe as online shopping falls under the areas covered by the European Accessibility Act, and e-commerce sites will therefore have to become accessible by 2025.
The talk covered the user flow of the e-commerce process, including the accessibility-related caveats, challenges, and pitfalls to watch out for at each step. There are many! The e-commerce process includes many steps with complex user interface patterns, which may be difficult and very taxing for some users to manage. The key takeaway for me was to make sure that we don’t take any shortcuts at the design stage, keep things as simple as possible, bear in mind all users’ experiences, and avoid information overload!
A personal note on the topic: for more information about the state of accessibility of Swiss webshops, I recommend Access for all’s 2020 accessibility study of webshops – Schweizer Accessibility-Studie Onlineshops!
Day 3 - Kevin Mar-Molinero: The data says I don’t exist: How DATA-DRIVEN solutions fail those with disabilities
The talk I found most enlightening during the entire conference took place on the third day. Kevin Mar-Molinero, Director of experience technologies at Kin and Carta Europe spoke about how data-driven solutions are excluding people with disabilities and can lead to more exclusion as a result.
At the start of the talk, it was pointed out how important a role data plays these days in our decision-making process. Nonetheless this data – often unintentionally – is biased, and could be lacking. This may be for reasons of ignorance or technical blockers in tracking certain data due to the analytics tools we rely on. As an added complication, analytics tools can only track those who can already use a system and will therefore say that those who are excluded don’t use it. Furthermore, data – by nature – includes only the past. As it was stated in the slides so elegantly: “Data only looks at what has come before; A past built on bias is a future with bias built in.”
Some options for working around these issues – relying on aggregated datasets, user testing, A/B testing, real-world user feedback – were pointed out as alternatives.
The talk finished with some thought about the ethics of data collection which went straight to the point in my opinion. Two takeaways for me and for all of us: let’s not fail to consider the reasons why we collect the data and, most importantly, let's all remember the human behind the numbers!
And that's a wrap!
And so concluded axe-con 2022. Many thanks to Deque for organising this platform for web accessibility, and to all of the speakers for bringing their knowledge to the attendants! We are looking forward to axe-con 2023!
In the interim, if you have any questions or need guidance on how accessibility affects your specific business, reach out to us today!