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AI-Powered Websites Designed to Fix Accessibility Problems May Be Problematic

“Companies say their A.I.-powered tools are the best way to fix accessibility problems online, but many blind people find they make websites harder to use.” So states a recent article in The New York Times. Automated web accessibility services have grown in popularity over the past few years, due to advances in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and legal demands for companies to make their websites more accessible. However, according to some users who are blind or have low vision, these changes may not yield the intended results. The addition of coding and other features has resulted in such issues as reformatting pages and hiding some items from screen readers, like checkout and shopping cart buttons which were mislabeled. Numerous companies provide these automated tools, with clients that include major corporations, hospitals, and local governments. Part of the goal in introducing automated web accessibility is to help their clients avoid litigation if websites are not accessible. Despite their intent, some of the clients using these products have faced lawsuits, and “more than 400 companies with an accessibility widget or overlay to their website” have been sued over accessibility, according to “data collected by a digital accessibility provider.” Leading AI companies, while affirming their goal to increase web accessibility, have acknowledged “that their products aren’t perfect” and that they are working to improve them with investments in research and development. Still, while these improvements remain a work in progress, some people who are blind or have low vision say it is not reasonable to expect them to wait for automated products to improve when internet use is so essential, particularly in the workplace. Read more about how For Blind Internet Users, the Fix Can Be Worse Than the Flaws.