Why You Should be Wary of Using an “Accessibility Checker” Alone 

By: Sarah Roberts
Two women looking at a computer in an office

Our team recently started experimenting with online accessibility checkers. They scan your website to flag accessibility concerns and barriers for individuals with disabilities, but our results made us question how much you can rely on these tools to provide accessible environments. 

We consulted online accessibility expert, Mike Paciello, for his take and recommendations on how to best approach web accessibility. Paciello serves as the founder of The Paciello Group and WebABLE

“There is no one tool or one platform that is going to get you everything,” said Paciello. “If you try to do it that way, it’s not going to work.” 

Here are some of Paciello’s tips on making meaningful accessibility improvements.  

Accessibility checkers aren’t perfect 

The Verbit team recently ran its pages through accessibility checkers and found that three separate checkers provided three different results. How can companies know who to trust?  

We also found that there were many glitches in the tools themselves. For instance, one checker marked blank spaces on the page as “missing headers.” Headers are important for accessibility because they help people who rely on screen readers or keyboard navigation to use a website. However, the checker was flagging intentional blank spaces on the page.  

Paciello noted that these tools are quite limited. He said it’s not a question of finding one accurate accessibility checker that’s capable of yielding the best results.  

“Automated tools today are only capable of doing so many checks for validation on an accessibility level. There are a lot of things that they cannot do. For example, they can’t emulate the way that a screen reader user would actually navigate a website.” 

Still, while imperfect, online accessibility checkers can be one tool that your business uses to hold itself accountable. 

How to approach accessibility checkers 

In Verbit’s case, we were still thankful to uncover via a checker that some of the social media icons on our page didn’t include alt-text. Alt-text provides a textual description of images. When people who are blind or have vision loss come across an image with alt-text, their screen reader can tell them what the image depicts. 

Alt-text is important for context and can include vital information shown graphically like words, numbers, charts or tables. While in this instance our images included alt-text, our social media icons did not. This gap could prevent some users from knowing they were even on the page. While accessibility checkers aren’t perfect, they were able to reveal this oversight to us so we could remediate it. In fact, we uncovered a bigger issue as a result – the software we were using didn’t offer the ability to add alt-text for social media icons. We, therefore, opened a support ticket with the company to fix this issue and were able to improve access on our site.  

Paciello said that when a company needs to thoroughly check its site and content, tech should not replace people. Here are a few steps he recommends taking to prioritize accessibility online and incorporate a human touch for the best results.  

Hire or appoint an accessibility leader 

One of the issues holding companies back is that many business leaders view accessibility outside of their territory or priorities. Although accessibility shortcomings can be costly and cause damage to brand images, they’re just not on everyone’s radar.  

“Accessibility is a civil rights issue, and that’s how it’s always been,” Paciello said. 

To make sure that accessibility gets the attention it deserves, someone internal needs to be responsible for it. Paciello said this person must understand the importance of accessibility. Otherwise, they likely won’t prioritize it. 

“I believe in the notion of disciplined people, disciplined processes,” he said.  

An accessibility leader can keep your teams honest and push for diligent accessibility efforts. They won’t let people get away with cutting corners or “getting to it later.”  

Establishing a multistep process  

Companies, under the leadership of an accessibility officer, need to create clear processes. 

“You’ve got to make sure that you include the right kind of tools, that those tools are tuned properly for what you’re trying to accomplish, that you have the right kind of usability and user experience testing woven into that process,” said Paciello. “No single tool or platform can address all accessibility needs, so a comprehensive approach is necessary.” 

Train internal people in accessibility 

It’s likely that each person at your company – whether they’re a developer or a marketer or an HR executive – touches something that needs to be examined to determine whether it’s accessible. It’s unlikely that these team members are aware of the importance of accessibility and how they can contribute to making their tasks and therefore the entire company more accessible through effective changes.  

For example, the person producing your training videos and marketing videos should know that they need to caption them. A process needs to be in place so that every video is checked for captioning (or other needs like audio description) before distribution.  Your content creators or those building landing pages for sales efforts on your site need to understand the importance of using headers instead of large or bold fonts. You should have mandatory accessibility training sessions in place to provide them with this education and the tools they need. 

Have people with disabilities test your site and products 

Many business leaders seriously underestimate the number of employees with disabilities working at their companies. In fact, about 25% of employees report having a disability while employers report that they estimate between 4-7% of their employees have a disability. Additionally, the CDC reports that about 27% of people in the US have a disability, indicating the importance of ensuring your content, website and workplace are accessible.  

When it comes to checking if something is accessible, there’s no substitute for having people test it out. 

Having people who are Deaf, blind or have other disabilities test your site and check for accessibility challenges can uncover issues that no tools or technology would find. Companies need to start performing these types of user checks if they’re truly committed to inclusivity.

Technology can be limited, but it’s still important for access 

While generative AI and other current tools aren’t yet fully reliable, Paciello said he believes that automated checkers will continue to improve. Additionally, technology is helping companies achieve accessibility more consistently. For example, companies that don’t have internal experts in captioning can rely on AI-based tools like Verbit’s to quickly caption their video content at scale. 
At Verbit, we view accessibility as a process that requires teamwork, human expertise, the right technologies and ongoing commitment across various departments. We’ll be highlighting the steps we’re taking in our own accessibility journey and sharing more insights from experts on our online hub. We’re also pleased to continue to provide reliable technologies, including trusted captioning and transcription solutions to help make some aspects of your accessibility journey a bit easier to achieve.