About the HTML Epidemic, WebAIM “Million” Report, and Teach Access

It’s been about a dozen years since I first realized that there is a world-wide HTML epidemic. Although I speak about the importance of semantic markup and tweet about it often, I wish I’d written specifically about it before. Thankfully others have such as Bruce Lawson, Manuel Matuzovic, and Laura Kalbag.

Web developers overwhelmingly fail when it comes to implementing semantic HTML, whether they actually know how to or not. There are many negative ramifications of this in the areas of device interoperability, reader modes, converting to PDF and EPUB formats, SEO, graceful degradation, code consistency/maintenance, and demonstrating professionalism. But particularly web accessibility.

WebAIM Million

Recently, WebAIM published a report analyzing the accessibility of the top one million website homepages in the world, called The WebAIM Million. This is striking empirical data on how poor accessibility is and how poor the quality of HTML is on the Web. For example, here are some figures from the study.

  • There was an average of 59.6 [accessibility] errors per page.
  • 97.8% of home pages had detectable WCAG 2 failures.
  • 5 of the top 6 issues were due to solely to improper HTML (missing alternative text for images, empty links, missing form input labels, missing document language, empty buttons).
  • 2,099,665 layout tables were detected compared to only 113,737 data tables (note that tables are for data, not layout).
  • On average, home pages had 36 distinct instances of text with insufficient contrast.

This is obviously bad. And, it’s important to point out that the study was done using an automated tool, which is capable of detecting only a portion of actual accessibility issues/errors. I estimate that the amount of issues would at least double or even triple if full audits were done.

Also, as a result of web developers’ poor HTML implementation, accessibility consultants are increasingly required to teach HTML to web developers rather than address “actual” accessibility issues.

illustration of the letters HTML written on a chalkboard with confused cartoon-like character pointing to it

Resolving the HTML Epidemic

This is obviously a huge problem that must be addressed. What can we do to help resolve this HTML epidemic?

Digital accessibility must be considered when hiring and training employees. Accessibility must be considered when creating a web-based product. Accessibility must be a part of ongoing training for web professionals. Accessibility needs to be taught in education.

An organization called Teach Access (@teachaccess) is helping in some of these areas. Teach Access is a group of tech companies (including Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Adobe, and Microsoft) which is preparing designers, engineers and researchers to think and build inclusively. They have several initiatives including Faculty Grants and a web accessibility tutorial. And another way to fight the good fight for HTML semantics and accessibility is to become a member of Teach Access.

Teach Access is in partnership with PEAT (Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology) which is a program funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor.

Teach Access logo

If you’re involved in education, please reach out to teachers and professors about Teach Access and about digital accessibility in general. HTML and web design are often part of computer science, software engineering, and mass media, advertising, and news programs. You can also offer to give a guest lecture.

If you have further ideas on how to improve the use of HTML semantics (and web accessibility), please leave in a comment on this post.

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2 comments

  1. Virginia

    Speaking as a former educator who always taught semantic HTML as foundational knowledge, I suspect that students who get instruction in how to use a tool – say WordPress, for example – miss that basic background in the importance of semantic HTML.

  2. Pingback: The WEBAIM One Million and The Accessibility Maturity of the Web World • Digital A11y

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