Sanna Kramsi - Blog A peek into my life

The six most common accessibility errors on the top million home pages

March 01, 2024 | Accessibility

As an accessibility enthusiast, I enjoy digging into various surveys and statistics about accessibility. The WebAIM Million reports on the accessibility of the top million home pages. The latest report is from 2023, I hope they will release a Million report in 2024. And this is also why I took the time to dig into the last year’s report so I’m better prepared to compare what has been changing. I find the results very fascinating.

The most common WCAG failures on home pages

The numbers have changed a bit from year to year, but these most common errors have been the same for five years! These are the most common errors on home pages:

  • Low contrast
  • Missing alternative text
  • Empty links
  • Missing form labels
  • Empty buttons
  • Missing document language

Missing document language and empty buttons have switched places, but they both remain among the most common errors. 

What is most interesting about these errors is that they are quite easy to fix, at least when compared to other types of errors that can occur. So why haven’t the top million home pages been remedied for these?

Low contrast

This problem was present on over 80% of the home pages. That is a huge percentage! Are organizations so fixed on their brand colors never changing that they aren’t willing to work on this?

Missing alternative text

Missing alternative texts were present on over 58% of the home pages. The report doesn’t count images with empty alt text, like some accessibility monitoring tools these days do. So over 20% of home pages are missing alternative text for an image. What makes it even worse is that according to the report, over half of these images were linked images. Which means that those links were not descriptive at all. And this now violates several WCAG criteria.

According to the report, 10% of images with alternative text had bad ones. Alternative texts along the lines of “image”, “graphic”, “blank” or the file name. So essentially useless.

I think a lot of this boils down to not understanding what the alternative text is for. There is still a lot of work to be done educating people on this.

Empty links

Empty links were present in half of the home pages! And still, to this day, way too many links have ambiguous link text, like “click here”, “more”, and “continue”. We need to get rid of these as well as ensure all links always have a link text.

In my work, these kinds of empty links occur often when there is an image or an icon that defines the link. These happen with both developers and content editors. We need to improve our understanding of the importance of descriptive link texts. I have a feeling that this, like many other accessibility problems, is happening because people don’t understand why these things are important.

Missing form labels

Missing form labels occur in over 35% of form inputs. This is a big number still, but the number has improved from previous years. So good progress has been made already. But there is still work to be done.

The report doesn’t say which types of inputs these were, but one very common occurrence I see in my work is search functionalities. With those the visible label is often missing, and this increases the probability of missing also the accessible name of this input field. I always recommend having visible labels for forms because that helps all the users regardless of their abilities or tools.

Empty buttons

Empty buttons occur in almost 30% of the home pages. And this is the one category where the percentage has gone up from what it was in 2019. In my work, I’ve noticed these can easily happen with buttons that are visually represented by an icon. Not many developers add a visually hidden text for the button and often the icon itself doesn’t have a text alternative.

Missing document language

Missing document language was present in almost 20% of the home pages. In addition to being a problem for accessibility, this is a problem for code quality as well. This is often something the developer of the website has to take care of. Many tools and CMS systems provide these already by default.

The numbers are improving

While the numbers are still way too big in my opinion, it’s relieving to notice that the numbers are slowly improving. There have been setbacks but for the most part, the occurrences are less frequent than they used to be five years ago. And of course, there are differences between sectors.

I recommend everyone to take a look at the Million reports, they also cover more topics than these most common problems. We still have a lot of work to do!