Companies buying accessibility AI remediation solutions for websites show a careless attitude toward visitors with human life experiences.
- Defends the company from an accessibility lawsuit.
- Automatically remediates the source code.
- Provides adjustments for disabled people to use the website.
For billions of people worldwide.
Even Fortune 100 companies are investing thousands each year for AI solutions for accessibility.
Rather than building an accessible website and testing it with disabled users, they choose a non-human approach.
Not only that, these brands are used as models for other businesses to follow by allowing their websites to be used to market accessibility overlays.
Prioritizing Design for People First
Most companies guide digital product and web design decisions through the process of creating business requirements.
Marketing strategies follow, also intended for the company’s benefit.
We have all witnessed situations where the end-user is not served well by a website or app.
And in the event that some user experiences are accounted for, only a few make it into the final design, and even less are tested out in the field before launch.
This is one of the reasons why user personas are not popular. They were used as representative humans.
However, designing for inclusion is a huge undertaking and some companies stopped trying altogether.
This led to the rise in the use of pre-made, no-experience-necessary, slap-it-together websites.
More often than not, they are the most inhospitable to website user experiences, especially for those with disabilities.
Marketing has a bad reputation that has continued into present-day digital marketing tactics.
Today, causing alarm is common. It works quite well on the web with the aid of social media.
Before the internet, people were easily manipulated by words they read on a printed page.
Carefully crafted slogans and jingles could sway us to buy products. We even sang songs with brand names as children.
In the early 1980s, I attended a workshop on subliminal advertising used in print magazine ads such as the colorful, glossy pictures of glasses filled with whiskey and ice cubes containing messages that only the subconscious mind perceived, such as “buy now” or “drink this”.
Media manipulation was the topic of the book by journalist, Vance Packard, “The Hidden Persuaders,” in the 1950s.
Although the study on Coca-Cola that he wrote about was later deemed as bogus, he brought the idea of hidden persuasion in advertising out into the open.
Our subconscious mind is the decision-maker.
It’s easy to engage, control, and influence us without our conscious awareness of what was happening.
Advertisers learned to direct consumer behavior toward a specific action.
Makers of products like alcohol, cigarettes, and beauty products combined visuals with subliminal messages. The practice was used in music too.
Called “backward masking”, some early rock songs were claimed to contain dangerous subliminal messages, such as “Do it”, urging listeners to take their own lives.
In the 1970s one of my friends had a reel to reel tape recorder where we played Beatles songs backward to try and hear “secret messages” in the songs.
Controlling Human Behavior on the Web
Research into the psychology of human behavior and the use of propaganda is astounding.
The internet literally flung open the doors for businesses to drive traffic and sales through images, print, and video media that could reach far beyond their local town limits.
We learned that we could reach out and touch everyone and make them do, say, and be whatever we told them to believe.
Even some of the early developers of social media platforms realized that each new product, no matter how well-conceived, could be used to cause harm.
There are critical concerns for how social media influences human behavior and how people are not able to discern truth from purposely deceptive messaging.
We no longer trust what we see and hear. We no longer know who is telling the truth.
If you are a digital marketer, web designer, or business owner with a website, how can you possibly negotiate through the present day jungle of competitive chaos?
Web Design for Life Experiences
Three people approach a new store in town and are greeted by the store’s owner who is standing at the door personally welcoming everyone.
The first person strides up to the store owner, glances quickly at the print flyer shoved in his hand, stuffs it into his pocket, and enters the store.
The second person shifts the infant she’s carrying in her baby sling, grabs the hand of her 4-year-old, and tries to hustle inside but the shop owner stops her, tries to hand her the flyer and realizing there are no hands to put it into, begins to sound off the list of sales inside.
The mother nods quickly, and carefully guides herself and children into the shop, not waiting to hear the list of special deals.
The third person doesn’t do anything.
Paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair-bound, the young woman looks at the step up to the sidewalk and then to the narrow door where the shop owner is standing.
Seeing the person in the wheelchair, the store owner calls out, “Can I help you come inside?”
But the prospective customer has already spun around to leave, knowing that if the store didn’t plan for accessibility, she wasn’t interested in entering the business.
She would return home, log into Facebook, and warn her friends.
Which one of these scenarios violates accessibility?
All of them.
You probably chose the handicapped person.
Now, imagine that the store owner has a website store.
Which of the three should the website be designed for?
All of them.
Plan for Accessibility
The first customer is a 65-year-old gentleman whose eyesight requires the use of reading glasses, which he left inside his car.
He shoved the flyer in his pocket because he would not able to read it. He hoped there would be large signs inside the store.
The mother needed to find a gift for a child’s birthday party and was running behind on her list of errands.
She also, like most new mothers, lacked a full night’s sleep and was short of patience. Her toddler just wanted to go inside. Now.
The wheelchair customer works with veterans as a nurse who was herself injured on a tour of duty and lost the use of her legs.
She looks for businesses that are prepared to do business with disabled people.
Accessibility includes a wide number of human needs that are both physical, mental, and emotional.
Some impairments are not obvious, but they are there.
There are billions of people around the world with some form of disability or impairment, permanent or temporary.
Inclusive design is a starting point.
The more you understand how people use your web product, the more educated decisions you can make that benefit your users.
Design for All of Them
If you have read anything lately about website accessibility, you may fear that at any minute someone will have an accessibility complaint that may lead to a lawsuit.
Certified accessibility advocates do not advise scaring businesses into choosing inclusive design.
But companies who sell automatic accessibility remediation promote their products by clever sales tactics that are fear-based and inaccurate.
For example, one company selling accessibility overlays claims that all websites must legally be Section 508 compliant.
This is not true.
In the U.S., only federal websites must meet Section 508.
Your small business website selling blenders is not legally required to be Section 508 compliant.
They claim that all websites must meet a list of compliance regulations by law and they provide the official list that includes policies from every country – some enforceable and some that are not.
But that list looks convincing to someone who has no idea what accessibility compliance is or who website accessibility is for.
It’s in your best interest to know how people use your web product.
We are already well aware that design for usability helps with SEO and information architecture.
But our mindset is locked into converting, not assisting.
Digital Marketing for Life Experiences
Digital marketing used as a way to convert people assumes that people are unable to make choices on their own, so we have devised methods of swaying opinions and influencing behavior.
Instead of converting traffic to sales, we may want to try to invite online visitors into our space by building accessible products and websites.
We demonstrate through our website designs that everyone is welcome.
As we show our guests what we have to offer, each website visitor is provided with a user-friendly experience that accommodates them and helps them make good choices during their stay.
Accessibility Is a Life Experience
What do consumers need today to do business online?
Do you make the effort to ask?
Imagine that you require aid to move around when you travel, shop for food, or dine out with friends.
I rarely go anywhere without someone who can see clearly because my eyesight is poor.
Airports are a real struggle.
For years when I attended conferences, my husband came with me.
He showed me where everything was, and I later could fly alone because I memorized airport layouts.
Practicing how to travel and register at hotels first helped me with anxiety, a disorder that millions of people suffer from.
Websites in the healthcare, insurance, and legal verticals would be wise to consider the unseen and less obvious needs of people who arrive from a search query seeking their help.
Many are in an agitated, emotional state and using a website not designed to calm them is not being accessible.
You Can’t Fake Being Human
Let’s go shopping in town again, only this time you are required to build your own parking space, install automatic doors, and do recon to learn what you need for your particular circumstances before you have the opportunity to enter the business.
This is what accessibility overlays do.
An overlay does what most computers, mobile devices, and browsers already do.
People who need adjustments to use digital products already know how to increase font sizes, change colors, turn off sounds, block ads, and much more.
Every computer device has accessibility settings, with Apple and Android making continual improvements. These settings come with the device.
There is no need for a website owner to pay a fee for an overlay that does what is already available for free.
One popular accessibility overlay product boasts that its AI is so intelligent that it works in the background fixing every accessibility situation on the fly and learns user behavior in the process.
It adds alt text for images and has its own built-in screen reader.
For fun, I tried one of their demo websites with their AI running along with my Mac VoiceOver screen reader.
It was a confusing disaster of conflicting commands.
So, what does the person who uses assistive technology do when faced with a website using a script that breaks their accessibility settings and usage methods?
Base Marketing on True Life Experiences
Eventually, companies will catch on to the marketing hype.
The only way to truly know how people use websites is to include them in your plans and designs.
From a brand reputation perspective, overlays and AI remediation signal uninformed management who do not value customers because they refuse to code accurately.
Rather than hire developers skilled in accessibility design, they pay for a workaround.
If you were sold on the idea of overlays saving you from an ADA lawsuit, which is how they sell the products, and you receive a demand letter, what is your next step?
It should be to remediate the issues, but since you didn’t build the website to be accessible, you have no idea how to fix problems.
You never bothered to hire an accessibility specialist to support your accessibility decisions.
You were promised you would never need a lawyer, even though your accessibility statement clearly states that you didn’t bother to design the website to meet WCAG guidelines and chose to install a script and overlay instead.
Have you ever visited a website with ads loading over content, auto-playing videos, social icons, and share buttons on the sides, an email subscription form draped over content until it is shooed away, and an overlay pop-up is provided to help you make the website work for you?
The best websites and digital software are designed for everyone to use with ease.
It’s a process that takes time, skills, compassion, and empathy.
Today’s internet needs to look at ethical design practices and digital marketing tactics.
Unique human life experiences are true sources for designers and developers wanting to discover who we are and an abundant resource for digital marketers hoping to convey the company not only listens to their users but wants to meet their needs.
Great leadership accepts this challenge.