Chatbots for everyone?

Digital solutions have great potential to give people with disabilities increased opportunities of independence and empowerment. But it is required that the technology used is accessible to everyone. This is why Funka regularly examines various services with accessibility in focus.

Chatbots are used more and more frequently, which means that both organizations and individuals receive support by automating the dialogue between, for example, customer and a store using software or artificial intelligence.

Businesses can offer more efficient customer service and save money while users can order a table at a restaurant or order a taxi on time in a simpler way. In the long term, many believe that chatbots will be able to support all services and become a natural part of conversations other than just a chat.

This all sounds good, but how do they work in reality? In order for chatbots to provide support to everyone, they must also be inclusive, says Kristian Simonsen, Accessibility Expert at Funka's Oslo office, who has led the project.

With funding from the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, we have examined how selected implementations of chatbots work for people with disabilities.

Difference in theory and practice

All tested solutions showed different problems in relation to the requirements of the Norwegian Accessibility Act. The differences were mainly about how the solution was implemented. Thus, it should be possible to create significantly better user experiences if those responsible for the implementation have universal design in focus.

In the project, we conducted audits and use tests. Interestingly, the results differ quite a lot; the implementations that have the most technical deficiencies are those with which the test persons have the least problems. It is important to point out that the project has had a limited budget and that the tests are based on cluster sampling.

  • Several of the implementations we tested use the same engine. Yet, they differ from one another in terms of accessibility. Thus, much depends on the requirements placed on the supplier during implementation.
  • A group that experiences major challenges with the solutions we have tested are people with visual impairments.
  • In general, the implementations have unclear identification of links and buttons as well as poor contrasts.
  • The language of the chatbots was relatively understandable throughout. However, there were flaws in how chatbots interpret the questions that users enter. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations make the chatbots' answers unusable.

The result of the project was presented at UnikT forum in Oslo on February 5 to an enthusiastic audience. The report published here is in Norwegian only, but you are always welcome to contact us if you want to know more.

Accessibility in chatbots

Report - Universell utforming av chatbots, (text in Norwegian) pdf 446 kb, opens in new window