Every year, WebAIM conducts a study of the top 1,000,000 home pages across the web. This study is a great way to get a broad assessment of how web accessibility is changing across a wide array of popular sites.
And year by year, the stats seem to be getting a bit better. But the progress is so incremental, with such small gains. And this isn’t because home pages aren’t changing. If you look at the detected errors section, you’ll see that the number of detected errors has gone down by 1.1% since February 2021 – while home page complexity has simultaneously increased by 7.7%.
It’s not a bad thing that error occurrences didn’t increase at the same rate that complexity did, but it doesn’t directly mean much. That increase in complexity could certainly represent any number of issues that weren’t detectable by WAVE.
The most alarming statistics to me are discussed in the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) Conformance section of the report. The six highlighted errors are easy, obvious, readily detectable by automated testing, and easily fixable. Every one of them. Not one of those errors is something that should be produced by a professional web developer who had even a basic understanding of accessibility – and that tells you an awful lot about the excremental state of web development right now.
Low contrast issues, at least, can potentially be attributed to push back from non-developer interests: restrictive brand identity rules, design standards enforced at the corporate level, etc. They should be fixed, but they may not be the fault of the developer or web designer.
Missing alternative text may be the fault of content creators in many cases, although the tools should be written to help prevent those problems.
But empty links, missing form labels, empty buttons, and missing document languages are all riding in on the backs of ignorant developers.
I’ve been promoting accessible web development for almost 20 years, and I feel like I’m still waiting for people to listen. This is a problem that needs to be addressed everywhere in the development process. Developer education needs to handle accessibility. Quality assessment and acceptance needs to look at accessibility issues. If we’re going to embrace a world where anybody can build a website with little or no development knowledge, then those people who are developing those tools need to be held to an increasingly high standard.