By all rights, companies have been embracing accessibility, talking about it, and raising awareness in the past year. But talking and doing are two different things. Because of these actions, we couldn't wait to work on our third annual State of Accessibility Report (SOAR) to see if we've finally moved the accessibility needle.

The purpose of publishing SOAR every year is to assess the current state of accessibility across companies and industries, evaluate what has improved, and provide solutions for areas that still need better design. 

The report identifies accessibility metrics in the Alexa top 100 websites and — for the first time across the accessibility community — analyzes the top free and paid mobile apps in the Apple and Google Play stores.

What’s the State of Alexa Top 100 Website Accessibility?

While the last two showed some progress, this year’s report reveals some massive improvements. 

Key findings on the Alexa Top 100 website testing include the following.

  • Of the websites tested, 62% of the sites were accessible to screen readers, an increase from last year’s 40% and 2019’s 29%.
  • The proper use of ARIA had the highest error rate.
  • Sufficient color contrast was the second most common error.
  • The input field labels had the lowest error rate.
  • Alternative text for images had the second fewest errors.

Get the full SOAR report.

It doesn’t surprise us that input field labels and alternative text for images had the lowest error rates. These have been standard for some time. As for sufficient contrast, many roles may be involved in the creation of graphics and color design choices. They’re most likely unaware of the problems with contrast or specific details on how much contrast would suffice.

How Do Mobile Apps Fare in Accessibility?

During Diamond’s first ever testing of mobile apps, the report looks at the top 20 paid apps as well as the top 20 in free apps. The team evaluated apps from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. It was important to look at both free and paid apps because free apps tend to have far more users than paid apps.

Free iOS and Android Mobile Apps Results

Here are the key findings from the mobile free app accessibility testing:

  • Screen reader testing of the registration process on free apps shows 65% of iOS apps and 75% of Android apps were accessible.
  • Free apps scored high on alternative text and heading accessibility.
  • Free apps scored low on screen orientation and text resizing accessibility.
  • Free apps scored 95% or higher for properly identifying headings.
  • Regarding the accessibility of the free apps’ main features, 80% of the iOS and 65% of free Android apps passed.

Paid iOS and Android Mobile Apps Results

Here are the key findings from the mobile paid app accessibility testing:

  • In the manual accessibility testing of the home screen, only 35% of iOS and 29% of Android Apps passed.
  • Regarding the accessibility of the paid apps’ main features, 10% of the iOS and 40% of Android apps passed.
  • Of the paid apps, half of the iOS apps tested passed on the use of proper headings. But only 10% of Android devices passed.
  • Paid apps scored low on all tests.

Why did free apps fare notably better than paid apps? Free apps have a much larger consumer base than paid apps. The more consumers a product has, the more likely consumers will provide feedback about the need for accessibility. Additionally, many of the companies behind the free apps are companies that put a high priority on accessibility. 

Now that we know where the strengths and weaknesses are, what do we do next? Find out in the 2021 State of Accessibility Report. The results are nothing like anything we've seen before.

What's Next for Accessibility?

There's still much work to be done. Awareness is one thing. But creating a digital product that’s more than minimally compliant is another. People must gain a better understanding of accessibility standards and best practices. 

Evolving Accessibility Guidelines

Moreover, guidelines must continuously improve to keep up with innovation. For example, the WCAG version 3.0 plans to remove “web content” from the name and cleverly change it to “W3C Accessibility Guidelines” to keep the same acronym. Accessibility is not just for web content. Mobile apps and electronic documents also need to be born accessible and this renaming of the guidelines emphasizes this.

Version 3.0 updates the methodology for conformance levels. It will also add plain language to help people better understand the guidelines.

Another potential driver for the increase in accessible products is that accessibility-related litigation has increased by 20% from 2019 to 2020. Many organizations may view it as a potential risk. However, we encourage companies to choose to create accessible products because it's the right thing to do and it will expand your reach.

A Critical Component Many Organizations Overlook

For an organization to optimize its success in universal design and accessibility, it requires involving people with disabilities throughout the entire process. If you only involve them in the beginning, you may produce a product they won't use.

And if you involve people with disabilities later in the process, you may end up having to retrofit it to meet their needs. And will multiply the cost of the development. The Standish Group describes the Rule of Ten (PDF), which states "after each quality assurance level it will cost 10 times more in terms of time and money to correct and fix a defect as in the prior stage."

So, the later you involve people with disabilities to catch accessibility problems, the higher the cost. To get the best results for your investment, include people with disabilities throughout the development life cycle. Better yet, hire people with disabilities so you always have access to their valuable input. No diversity, equity, and inclusion program is complete without people with disabilities.

Companies now understand the benefits of leaning into accessibility. With more than 1 billion people making up the accessibility market, organizations that ignore people with disabilities will miss out on their $13 trillion in disposable income according to Return on Disability: Design Delight from Disability (PDF). This is a market larger than China.

The marketplace has always given attention to the Baby Boomer generation because they’re one of the largest generations. As they age, retire, and enjoy their twilight years, they require more accommodations. Thus, the market must adjust by giving priority to accessibility.

Final Thoughts

The good news is that there’s progress. Here’s hoping that accessibility will continue to SOAR and make strides by the time the next version of this report comes out.

In the meantime, we've barely scratched the surface of what we've found in the third edition. The results are nothing like anything we've seen before. It's our hope that you read the State of Accessibility Report. Learn from it. Take action. If every one of you does that, then we can expect some exciting results in the next edition.

Get the 2021 Report.