Over the last two years, digital accessibility quickly became a business priority. Forrester has seen a significant increase in inquiries related to accessibility, and more companies are hiring accessibility specialists — an encouraging signal that companies are making investments in this space. This increase is partly driven by the pandemic, which elevated the importance of digital in general, but is also driven by more brands committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and understanding that creating accessible experiences is a critical component of delivering on those commitments.
The most common question I get from companies is “Who can help?” Most companies don’t have large accessibility teams or even people with accessibility expertise. Even the ones that do still seek help with putting the training, processes, roles, and tools in place to achieve the organization’s accessibility goals. Additionally, companies often need to improve the accessibility of their digital experiences fast in response to a demand letter or lawsuit.
Accessibility platform vendors can help with addressing short-term needs — such as getting compliant quickly — as well as longer-term goals like creating a sustainable accessibility program that powers the creation of inclusive experiences. But the market for accessibility help is crowded and confusing. That’s why, later this year, I’ll be working on an accessibility platforms landscape report to help business leaders understand the value that they can expect from these providers and then select one. For now, I’ll share a few important things to keep in mind when selecting an accessibility partner.
What Can Accessibility Platform Vendors Help Me With?
These vendors typically offer two things:
- Technology that companies can use to test for, remediate, monitor, and report on the compliance of digital experiences against the standard for digital accessibility: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- Services such as audits, training, accessibility policy development, legal expertise, and strategic consulting
Is There Anything I Should Beware Of When Selecting A Partner?
There are two important things to understand about this market:
- Vendors hold different perspectives on the potential of automation to ensure accessibility. There’s much debate in the accessibility community over the merits of different vendors’ offerings, and at the end of the day, this debate boils down to the question of “To what extent can we automate the detection and remediation of accessibility problems?” What’s important for you to know is that automation cannot detect and remediate 100% of accessibility issues and will never be able to. Vendors that tell you otherwise aren’t being transparent, and you should steer clear of them.
- It’s critical to understand the limitations of stopgap, automation-only solutions. I blogged about this category of providers last year in my post, What’s Wrong With Quick-Fix Products For Digital Accessibility. Vendors in this category promise a “quick fix” solution to getting compliant with accessibility standards — sometimes in as little as 24 hours — without touching the underlying source code. That’s not possible, as discussed above. Accessibility professionals (see the Overlay Fact Sheet) and the disability community have long been critical of these automation-only solutions. For this reason, Forrester does not recommend these vendors for enterprise businesses. We do recognize that these solutions can serve as an important stopgap for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), if these businesses are aware of the limitations of these offerings. Note: Since I wrote that blog post last year, we’ve seen new entrants to this category. We also saw one vendor I placed in this category, AudioEye, expand its approach and service offerings, thus moving them out of this category and making them a more viable solution for SMB and enterprise businesses.
What Questions Should I Ask Candidate Vendors?
When selecting a provider, ask them questions such as:
- What is your methodology for accessibility testing? Make sure the vendor mentions manual testing and testing with assistive technologies in addition to automated testing. Go with vendors that also conduct usability testing with people with disabilities as part of their offering.
- How will you help us prioritize where to start? It’s a long road to making all your digital experiences accessible. Make sure the vendor talks about how they’ll help you create a roadmap and take a phased approach.
- What clients have you worked with, and can you point me to accessible experiences you helped them create? Use free tools like WAVE or a contrast checker to scan experiences and verify that they’re actually accessible. If you have an internal accessibility expert, now is a great time to bring them in to vet vendors by examining their work samples and references closely.
- How are people with disabilities involved in shaping your products and services? The best vendors partner with the disability community to make sure their solutions are hitting the mark. This is crucial, because getting accessibility right isn’t just about getting compliant — it’s about creating usable, inclusive experiences.
- How will you teach our teams to do this work on their own? Even if your short-term plan is to have the vendor take on 100% of the work, clients tell us it’s important to find a vendor with strong training offerings and a commitment to helping your teams build accessibility into their daily work, limiting costly remediation efforts in the long term.
Where Should I Go For Help?
Here are some of the accessibility platform providers we regularly hear positive feedback on from our clients:
- eSSENTIAL Accessibility
- Level Access
In addition to selecting a vendor such as those listed above as their company’s primary accessibility partner, our clients often seek an additional partner that can connect them directly with the disability community for experience research. For example, Fable’s platform connects teams directly to people with disabilities who use assistive technologies such as screen readers for user research studies, such as usability tests. The firm maintains a community of hundreds of members across the US and Canada. Another accessibility user experience research provider is Knowbility’s AccessWorks panel. While Knowbility doesn’t have a research platform like Fable, this is also a great option for teams who want to recruit people with disabilities for product testing. In fact, Forrester partnered with Knowbility on such a study a couple of years ago — find out what we learned in our report, Get Accessibility Right: Recruit People With Disabilities Into The Design Process.
Stay tuned for more research on the accessibility platforms market later this year.