Is Content Management one of the route causes of accessibility failure?

Oct 24 2023

What is compliance?
How content management leads to most websites failing to meet accessibility standards.

Website accessibility is no longer just a choice. Regulatory requirements for compliance are on the rise and in some countries like the US, it is a legal requirement. Yet, accessibility is not merely a matter of checkboxes; it’s a moral obligation.


Neglecting website accessibility can inadvertently discriminate against people living with disabilities, representing a disconnect with most organisations’ Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility (DEI&A) commitments.

Surprisingly, despite the increasing awareness and money being allocated for accessibility improvements, a very high proportion of websites are not accessible and therefore not compliant. This often comes as a shock to those footing the bill who believe compliance has indeed been achieved. It’s clear that despite money being spent, current approaches to making websites accessible are simply not working. So why is this? The data collected by AAAtraq shows the root cause of this situation. A fundamental misunderstanding of what compliance is, coupled with ongoing content management issues are the main reasons why the vast majority of websites are still not accessible.

What is website accessibility?

Website accessibility is typically achieved by coding your content management system (CMS) and your website content in different ways. This ensures digital and electronic information, along with related information technology, becomes accessible to people facing a wide spectrum of disabilities including those with visual impairment, hearing loss, cognitive disabilities and more. Adhering to specific criteria ensures your content enables successful access for people with disabilities, often with the use of assistive technologies such as screen readers.

Many countries have already implemented laws that require websites to be accessible. In the US the most important of these laws is the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act of 1990. Other acts include Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 relating to government and public sector organisations, as well as a growing body of state-level and industry-specific regulations. In the UK one of the main pieces of legislation is the Equality Act of 2010.

To be deemed compliant with most of this legislation, websites typically need to conform to the AA-level of the WCAG 2 guidelines, an independent and authoritative set of accessibility guidelines that are highly technical but have effectively become a global standard for website accessibility.

How high is the level of the lack of compliance?

The answer is exceptionally high. In AAAtraq’s latest audit of websites across multiple sectors, we found that 94% of websites fail to comply with regulations about:blank such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, effectively discriminating against people with disabilities.

The authoritative annual WebAIM report on the accessibility of the top 1,000,000 website homepages draws similar conclusions, with the 2023 report finding that 96.3% did not conform with the WCAG guidelines. This figure has remained remarkably constant – only reducing 1.5% over the past four years.

Understanding compliance: the three areas that need to be focused on

To fully understand compliance around website accessibility we need to consider three elements of your website and its ongoing management, all of which can lead to non-compliance:

  • Content Management System (CMS): The software platform where content is added to create your website.
  • Templates: The page templates, default layouts and CSS (styling) that sit within your CMS and define the default structure and design of the content and pages on your website that are then viewed through a user’s device (PC, mobile etc.)
  • Content management: the ongoing process of adding new content to your website in the form of text, images and other media to display information, items to buy and more.

The principal contributing factor leading to non-compliance is content management. It’s responsible for 90% of inaccessible websites, yet very little attention is paid to this area. Often, the accessibility of the CMS and the templates undergo a one-time fix when a new website is launched or undergoes a new iteration.

The accessibility of your CMS and templates

When a new website is launched or upgraded, your digital agency should ensure your CMS and the related templates and CSS styling within it are accessible to the agreed level – in conformance with the AA level of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. The responsibility for the accessibility of the CMS, templates and CSS should be part of the contractual agreement signed with your agency.

This leads many digital marketing teams to believe that on launch day they have a fully accessible, compliant website.

Nine out of ten websites fail on accessibility due to content management

However, it’s not only your CMS and templates that must align with the AA level of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. Every piece of content added to your website must also meet these standards. Whenever new content is added to your website there is a potential risk of non-compliance with accessibility-related legislation. This highlights the need for ongoing testing and effort to ensure compliance as new content is published.

Consider this scenario: when an image is uploaded it may have issues with colour contrast or it might not include alt text that assistive technologies such as a screen reader can interpret. Likewise, links added within a page might not be fully accessible with link text. Not only images but videos, PDFs and audio need to be equally accessible. And the list goes on.

A review of US litigation and Cabinet Office complaints reveals nine common content-related accessibility failures that appear in 91% of cases including alt text, form labels, contrast, headings and more. In this context, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring accessibility lies with the organisation that owns and manages the website. Chances are, it’s you, NOT your digital agency who bears this responsibility.

Sometimes, content that is added to a website even before it is officially launched may not be accessible right from day one.

Why understanding compliance is critical

Understanding what compliance is by breaking it down into areas relating to your CMS, templates and content management means you can approach compliance with open eyes and take the necessary steps:

  • Clarity: take accountability for compliance relating to your CMS and templates and reflect this in your contracts with vendors, agencies and other partners
  • Awareness: be aware of your organization’s responsibilities relating to website accessibility and ongoing content management so you can then commit to the right training and support
  • Strength: take the right approaches to ensure content added to your website is accessible – continue with ongoing training, testing and risk protection to achieve compliance and reduce the risk of legal action and the related prohibitive costs.

Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind the ultimate objective to have a website that does not discriminate against people living with disabilities and who can now access your information, engage with your content and buy your products.

Full text from chart 1
Content management / 91% of issues / This is ever changing and is the majority of what impacts those people the rules are in place to support. Publishers (editors) What is added to pages to offer website visitors information, items to buy and documents to complete or take away. Templates, Content Structure Templates / CSS that sits in the CMS and pulls together the various content elements to structure pages based on required visitor device. CMS / Software Platform The foundations on which you build and deliver your content. The starting point that must have the capability to adhere to WCAG requirements. This is a one-time compliance build ‘the diagnostics’.

Full text from chart 2
A review of US litigation and of Cabinet Office complaints cite 9 key content related accessibility failures (found in 91% of cases). Not only are these the 9 that are mostly likely to be basis of a complaint, but they are also the ones that when addressed can offer the greatest improvement for visitors with disabilities. Complaints and litigation also cite Skip content / keyboard navigation – this is a build rather than a directly content related issue, but one that can be at least checked. Separate to this is compliance for Videos, Audio (including podcasts) and PDFs (limited complaints currently cited). Alt text, Link text, Contrast, Form Labels, Font Size, Headings, Titles, Statement and Lnagugue tab.

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