6 Key Factors to Consider in the Era of Generative AI


The Gist

  • Accessibility imperative. Digital accessibility is mandatory, not optional, for modern organizations.
  • AI progress. Generative AI holds potential but needs improvement in providing accessible digital experiences.
  • Inclusive development. Including individuals with disabilities in AI development is essential for successful accessibility.

Over the last decade, Alison Walden established an extensive track record empowering organizations to enhance the accessibility of their digital experiences. As the senior director of technology for the digital consultancy, Publicis Sapient, her company has worked with many prominent brands including McDonald’s, Marriott and Nissan. And as the head of Publicis Sapient’s Accessibility Centre of Excellence (CoE), she and her team strive to establish standards for accessible digital processes, experiences and capabilities.

How has generative AI been infused into the digital accessibility realm? Thus far, efforts to apply generative AI to digital accessibility challenges have not been too impressive. Why? Walden said it is likely because they’re building on what will become out-of-date interaction models.

“I’m talking about browser adaptations that use generative AI to attempt to fix website accessibility issues, for example by suggesting alternate text for missing images or guessing headings, or even the latest code-completion tools that suggest code snippets using AI,” Walden said. “Today these lack finesse and it’s still necessary to check the output for errors and bad patterns.”

Digital accessibility is serious business for customer experience and marketing teams. The 2023 Gartner Market Guide for Digital Accessibility advises that “Digital accessibility is no longer a choice; it’s a requirement. In addition to training and process updates, software engineering leaders must assess platform and service vendors in a complex and crowded market.”

According to the CDC, one in four adults in America have a disability. That’s 27% of the country’s population.

In a recent interview with CMSWire, Walden provided valuable insights as to what companies should consider when it comes to digital accessibility and generative AI.

Related Article: Why Web Accessibility Is Crucial for Brand Customer Experience

Creating Trustworthy Talkative Tech

In the near future, Walden said we will likely have different ways to navigate online, including through natural language interfaces that will become more accurate and trustworthy than what is currently available.

If you’ve experimented with the latest AI-powered natural language processing tools, such as ChatGPT, you’ve probably experienced the convenience of conducting intricate searches for information or products without the need to navigate through custom (often inaccessible) website interfaces.

“This is a huge benefit for people with disabilities who may find it cumbersome to wade through and validate lists of search results,” Walden said. “AI technology will easily be able to combine information from different sources, like ‘Find me vegan restaurants with female chefs,’ or ‘Find me a brunch spot by a restaurant that mentions having accessible washrooms.’”

However, the problem with today’s tech is the plethora of unreliable results that often appear in search results generated by AI chatbots, requiring the user to double check results or correct the chat interface to arrive at correct information.

“Additionally, once you find a result, you still need to navigate to that website that is probably inaccessible to complete your task,” Walden said. “Imagine a near future in which the search results have become more reliable and in which AI assistants have gained contextual sense and can help us complete tasks even on websites.”

Breaking Generative AI Barriers: Making Context and Accessibility Key Priorities

According to Walden, creating voice assistants that understand context is key. Currently, generative AI developers are improving speech recognition systems for a broader range of speech types, including those with impairments.

“Synthesized speech is also being used to help people who have difficulty speaking communicate more effectively,” Walden said. “Additionally, generative AI can improve text suggestions for people who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to communicate.”

Related Article: Driving Customer Engagement With Inclusive Strategies in Digital Marketing

Unlocking Inclusion: Making Digital Accessibility a Priority From the Start

Do you recall the Internet’s grand promise? Walden does. In the 1990s, as information and businesses flocked online, individuals with disabilities anticipated newfound access to previously unattainable content and services. Unfortunately, this vision remained unfulfilled due to the pervasive inaccessibility of the majority of websites.


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