Accessibility hits a roadblock: Companies are prioritizing inclusive design more than ever but lack the resources to make further progress

by | May 13, 2024 | Public Relations

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is later this week on May 16, and with large-scale legislation now in place, web accessibility should be plateauing based on the established requirements. Web designers are prioritizing accessibility when developing their digital experiences, but new research from real-world testing and digital quality firm Applause suggests a disconnect between making accessibility a priority and investments in internal resources.

According to the firm’s fourth annual Accessibility and Inclusive Design survey, when asked how well-equipped they are to test for accessibility on an ongoing basis, only 19 percent of respondents said they have adequate internal resources, and 26 percent reported having limited resources—an increase from 23 percent last year.

The recently completed survey of more than 3,500 software testers, product engineers, software developers, QA and UX professionals, and legal professionals across the globe, examines how companies prioritize accessibility when developing their digital experiences and how respondents rate their knowledge level regarding accessibility.

As part of the survey, respondents were asked to rate their organizations’ level of conformance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2, a set of international standards for making web and mobile content more accessible to people with disabilities (PWD). Respondents also shared their level of readiness for the EU Accessibility Act, a piece of legislation with global reach coming into force in June 2025.

web accessibility

Key findings

The survey showed that companies are prioritizing accessibility and inclusive design more than ever. When asked about the level of importance accessibility plays in their business:

  • 44 percent of respondents strongly agreed that digital accessibility is a higher priority for their company than it was last year, up from 27 percent in 2023.
  • Over three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents said they have a person or group at their organization responsible for ensuring products are accessible.

In addition to focusing more on accessibility, developers are also gaining expertise in the area, testing for accessibility earlier in the design process and employing inclusive design principles. When asked about their level of accessibility knowledge:

  • More respondents than ever described their current understanding of digital accessibility as advanced (26 percent in 2024 vs. 21 percent in 2023).
  • 87 percent said their accessibility expert or team employs inclusive design principles.
  • 79 percent said they build accessibility into their design plans at the earliest stages.

WCAG conformance increases, but companies are behind on preparations for the 2025 EU Accessibility Act.

  • 42 percent said their company meets WCAG 2.2 standards, up from 35 percent who met WCAG 2.1 standards in 2023.
  • AA remains the most common WCAG 2.2. conformance level. Until this year’s survey, “I’m not sure” was the most common answer when asked which level of WCAG conformance their company meets.
  • Only around one-third (32 percent) are on schedule to comply with the global-reaching EU Accessibility Act.

Automation and AI usage is on the rise in accessibility testing.

  • 50 percent of respondents are using an automated accessibility tool to identify potential issues, up from 40 percent in 2023.
  • When asked whether they think AI will provide a significant additive to accessibility testing in the next two, five or 10 years, the majority (60 percent) said two years.

“Accessibility is an increasingly important focus area for companies. Growing awareness of the importance of employing inclusive design principles and writing code with accessibility in mind is not just driving value for people with disabilities, but helps deliver great digital experiences for all users,” said Bob Farrell, vice president of solution delivery and CX practices for Applause, in a news release. “However, prioritizing accessibility needs to come with the right investments. While automation can be a valuable tool when used as part of a mature accessibility testing strategy, it should bolster, not replace, internal resources,” said Farrell. “Many accessibility issues are simply not machine-detectable, and though AI is already improving issue discoverability, it too is still not a stand-in for real human perspectives.”

Read the firm’s blog post for more on the report.

The Digital Accessibility Survey is part of the State of Digital Quality content series from Applause. In May 2023, the company released its second annual State of Digital Quality Report, which analyzes a representative sample of its testing data and reports on the most common flaws in digital experiences in several industries, including retail, finance, media and telecommunications, and travel and hospitality.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter