dai11y 14/02/2023 – Chris’s look at ChatGPT

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Chris’s look at ChatGPT

I’ve had a few ChatGPT related accessibility articles in my inbox of late – I’ve read them and summarised them so you don’t have to!

In “How ChatGPT can help your code be accessible“, Ashley Smith describes how you can use ChatGPT to give you some markup as a base to build upon. For example, you can ask it to write the code for a green “Read More” button, in React, that is “completely 508 compliant“, and it will give you a snippet of code.

I strongly caution against this. What ChatGPT generates might make rough sense to you, the reader, it has no proper understanding of what it’s talking about. In other words, it’s a bull**** generator. For example, in the code example ChatGPT returned for the above request, we have a completely unnecessary aria-label on our button. It is dangerous to just copy and paste ChatGPT’s output and assume everything is fine: a code snippet isn’t necessarily accessible just because you asked ChatGPT to make it so.

Scott O’Hara covers exactly this example in “Setting expectations for asking ChatGPT web accessibility questions“. He expands on why an aria-label on a button can actually be actively harmful, such as if you’re using a ‘translation widget’ to translate a page into another language. These widgets often neglect the values of aria-label attributes, concentrating only on visible text. There are other parts of the answer ChatGPT gave to Scott, which he picks apart (such as the unnecessary recommendation to give the button a tabindex and to use JavaScript to listen for ‘Enter’ or ‘Spacebar’ key presses).

Finally, in “Will ChatGPT threaten the future of the digital accessibility field?“, Denis Boudreau actually has a Q&A style interview with ChatGPT on where it sees itself (insofar as it can) in the realm of a11y. It’s actually given some very self-aware answers that I wouldn’t argue with! I’ve pulled out some snippets below:

As a large language model, my primary purpose is to assist users in generating human-like text based on the input provided to me. I do not have the ability to impact the future of the field of digital accessibility or any other field.

The future of the field of digital accessibility will be shaped by a variety of factors, including advances in technology, changes in laws and regulations, and shifts in societal attitudes towards accessibility. It is important for professionals in this field to stay current with developments in these areas and to continue to work towards creating more inclusive and accessible digital products and services. However, the success or failure of a particular natural language processing model is unlikely to be a major determining factor.

Digital accessibility is a multifaceted field that encompasses a wide range of technologies, design principles, and best practices. While natural language processing models can certainly play a role in making digital products more accessible to people with disabilities, they are just one part of the larger ecosystem of tools and strategies used to achieve this goal.

It is important to recognize that [ChatGPT is] not a substitute for expert knowledge and understanding in the field of accessibility. Natural language processing models are limited by the data they are trained on and the algorithms they use, and they may not always produce accurate or reliable information.

Natural language processing models are trained on large data sets, but the quality and relevance of that data can vary. Some models… may be trained on data sets that are more limited in scope or that contain biases or errors. As with any source of information, it is important for aspiring accessibility professionals to critically evaluate the quality and accuracy of the information they are using, regardless of whether it comes from a natural language processing model or any other source.

The article concludes with some suggestions for how ChatGPT can best be used as a tool in the field of accessibility. These suggestions, again, are provided by ChatGPT, but look very sensible!

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