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How Accessibility can help Artificial Intelligence

Written by Ben Leach on

In this blog we discuss how accessibility can help AI

Following on from our blog about how AI can help with accessibility, we investigate how accessibility can help AI and machine learning technologies perform better and more intuitively. 

What is AI

Artificial intelligence (AI), or sometimes referred to as machine intelligence is intelligence that is demonstrated by machines.

What sets AI apart from other technologies is that it displays intelligence that is somewhat like a human brain. These behaviours that make it intelligent are things such as: 

  • Planning
  • Learning
  • Reasoning
  • Problem Solving 
  • Perception
  • Social intelligence 

AI is ubiquitous today, used for a whole manner of things from deciding what adverts to display to you, being able to understand questions you are asking (Siri, Alexa and Google), recognise photographs, detect credit card fraud, spot spam and even help cure cancer. 

Whilst AI is constantly learning, it needs to be programmed initially by a human being with the ability to control how it learns, how it communicates and how it crawls resources to display the best results for humans. 

How Accessibility can help AI

Web accessibility is the practice of ensuring that people using assistive technology and those with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive impairments are able to access websites and digital services. 

Usually accessibility involves ensuring that these assistive technologies can access a website, and navigate around it efficiently. But how can making a website, digital service or program accessible actually help AI too? 

Semantic code

What is semantic code and why does it help accessibility

Semantic code is a buzzword that is rife within the design and development community. What it means is that elements of a website or digital service that are written in HTML are defined appropriately. 

This means that headings are defined as headings (with a <h> tag), paragraphs are described as paragraphs (with a <p> tag), and so on. 

Semantic code is used by machines such as search engines, and screen readers to understand the content of your website. This makes it an essential part of your development process, ensuring that your website is semantically coded. 

Why semantic code helps AI

Semantic code is often written for the purposes of machines. In that, search engine crawlers are able to understand the content of your website. 

This is no different to AI. When considering artificial intelligence voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Google’s own voice assistant, they behave in the same way. They are able to understand a user’s question and find the most relevant information on the question via the web. 

The only way they’re able to do this is through being able to read and understand the content themselves, which means relying on semantic code to more efficiently pull up the most relevant results. 

Accessible site structure and content

What is meant by accessible site structure and content, and how does it help accessibility? 

Accessible site structure means that the navigation of the site should not be difficult or cumbersome to use and should flow nicely. There should also be a sitemap available to be viewed so that users can better access certain areas of the site. 

When looking at content, it means making sure your content is written in Plain English and it has appropriate structure (semantic code as discussed earlier in the blog). 

A sitemap and content structure help users navigate and read this site in a much better way. With those using screen readers able to access the sitemap it makes navigating much easier. Similarly, content in Plain English helps with people being able to understand content easier. 

Why does site structure and content help AI? 

One of the most prevalent forms of AI is the search engine crawler. Search engines usually use AI technologies to ‘crawl’ or categorise information on a website. Having well structured links, a sitemap and content that is easy to read helps the search engine crawler categorise information in a much more efficient way. 

For content that is well structured and written in Plain English, search engines are able to distribute it to users if their AI thinks your article is of most relevance to the term posed. Poor structure and content will prevent a search engine being able to categorise it effectively and you could be missing out on search rankings. 

Readable content

What is readable content and how does it help with accessibility? 

Readable content is an essential part of your website, and is a requirement set out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Websites need to have content that is written in plain English. 

What we mean by that is that content must contain no unnecessary jargon or complex terminology. Users with cognitive impairments and processing difficulties will often struggle with complex language so it’s always best to write in as simple terms as possible in order for the most people to understand your content 

Why readable content helps AI

With AI that gathers information from the web like those that have been detailed above, writing content in the most readable way is the most helpful. 

AI relies on information to learn, and chatbots, or those that supply information, rely on learning from content that has already been written. If it reads content that is complex or filled with jargon, it is more likely to return an answer to a user that is also filled with complex terminology. Making content as simple as possible will help AI with answering a user’s query in the least complex way possible. 

Consider accessibility and you’ll help AI

With the above examples, it comes from ensuring your website is accessible first. Ensuring that you have met accessibility requirements will automatically help AI. 

Whilst basic AI and algorithmic processes are still in their infancy in the grand scheme of things, making your website accessible will help enhance technology. It stems from the fact that AI is much like a screen reader and a blind user in the sense of the information it uses. 

The ability for AI to communicate is only going to get more advanced, but making a website accessible, with semantic code in place, will help your website survive the future revolution of AI that is bound to keep on advancing. 

Help with accessibility

If you need help with making your website accessible, the HeX team can help, we offer accessible development and support, as well as website audits, training and consultancy. Get in touch with us to learn more.