6 Misconceptions about Web Accessibility

Even though web accessibility isn’t a new concept, there hasn’t been much discourse about it over the years and the topic is often widely ignored as part of website development and strategy. Because of this, there are still a lot of pervasive misconceptions about web accessibility.  Some of these misconceptions actually hold businesses and organizations back from implementing accessibility policies.

It is important to realize that some of the web accessibility misconceptions do have a basis in the truth.  For example, it used to be very difficult to create a complex, attractive website design which was also accessible.  However, with all of the advancements in web technology over the years, this is no longer the case.  Regardless of the size or scope of a website, there is no reason it shouldn’t be made accessible to all.  Let’s address each of the main accessibility misconceptions one by one to make sure none of them are holding you back from implementing effective accessibility policies.

1) People with Disabilities Aren’t Using the Internet or My Website

Contrary to common belief, people with disabilities do access the internet.  In fact, they often rely on the internet much more than the general population.  For example, people who are paralyzed often rely on online shopping to meet many of their basic needs because it is easier to order online than to go shopping at malls, supermarkets, etc.

The statistics back this up: approximately 20% of online users have some sort of disability.  This is a huge number!

Another misconception is for people to think, “People with disabilities don’t use my website.”  In some cases, this may seem like a logical assumption.  If your website sells skateboards, for example, then you probably aren’t targeting blind customers.  However, you don’t want to discount the woman who is blind and shopping for a skateboard for her niece.  And one quick YouTube search will show you how many mobility-challenged people are participating in sports like skateboarding.  Never assume that someone isn’t going to be interested in your website because of a disability.

2) Accessibility Means a Dull Website

In the past, it was very difficult to make a complex web design which was also accessible.  For example, screen readers of the past only read across the page.  So, a multi-column page would result in accessibility issues.

As a result, many websites which focused on accessibility (such as the websites to major disability organizations) were very boring.  This led to the belief that all accessible websites had to be boring.

Luckily, this is no longer the case.  Assistive technologies like screen readers have improved.  Web technologies like CSS, browsers, and XHTML have also improved. Accessibility now depends on having good code and simple design.  And simple design does not mean boring design!

In fact, it is nearly impossible to differentiate between accessibility and good user experience.   The same design components which make your website usable to non-users with disabilities – such as clear navigation and consistent design – will also make it accessible to users with disabilities.

3) A Text-Only Version of the Website is a Suitable Solution

Text-only websites don’t have any images or graphics, and usually just have a single-column layout with little use of color and very simple navigation.  Because many of the common accessibility issues have to do with images or complex design, it may seem like having a text-only version of the site is a good solution for all your accessibility issues.  This couldn’t be further from the truth though.

The first issue with the text-only approach is that it assumes people with disabilities are using text-only browsers.  In actuality, people with disabilities are using the same browsers as people without disabilities.  If you build a separate version of the website with just text, you are probably going to lose some of the non-text functionality and features which are found on the main version of the website.  The text-only version of the website may be accessible, but it is not comparable to the main website.  People with disabilities shouldn’t be deprived of anything your website has to offer because of how they access the website!

Even if your text-only version of the website is comparable to the main version, you are still segregating users. Think back to the “Separate but Equal” laws in the United States.  If we do this with disability access to the internet, we are separating a group of people from the public and stigmatizing them.  Further, we know that separate did not mean equal.  If you have two versions of your website, chances are that the text-only version isn’t going to get updated as frequently as the main version.

Another issue with text-only versions of websites is that they only address issues for people with sight-related disabilities. Having a text-only website does not mean that it will be accessible to people with other disabilities!  Considering how diverse internet users are, you want to make sure your website is in compliance to standards that make it accessible to everyone.

Those are just some of the issues with having a text-only version of website. Other issues include:

  • How will you handle search engine indexing?
  • Who will be in charge of keeping the text-only version up to date?
  • How will people with disabilities navigate through your main website to the text-only version?

As you can see, it is better to make your main website accessible rather than trying to make a separate alternative for users with disabilities.

4) Accessibility is Expensive and Difficult

Getting started with accessibility can seem like a big task, but it is by no means difficult.  The bulk of the work is going to be in educating yourself and staff about accessibility and taking the time to create clear policies and procedures.  Investing in a tool like Monsido can help reduce the burden and take the guesswork out of accessibility.  While the tool does mean another expense, it is more affordable than hiring an extra staffer to handle accessibility issues.

The benefits gained by improving accessibility – both in terms of legal compliance and website improvement – are well worth this investment.  In fact, improving accessibility can pay off financially by increasing your audience and reducing future need for website maintenance because of good coding and website policies.

5) Accessibility is the Responsibility of Web Developers

A lot of web accessibility has to do with good coding, so the bulk of the task does rest on developers.  However, there is a lot more to accessibility than just code. Editors, designers, and managers also all need to be thinking about accessibility.

Note that accessibility is not a bunch of separate issues or tasks, with each team worrying only about their own tasks.  There are many interdependent aspects of web accessibility.  For example, it is the responsibility of developers to make sure all data tables have the proper tag, but it is up to web editors to give a description of the data in the <caption>.   By creating clear policies, you can ensure that your teams are working in sync and reduce the burden on all of them.

6) Web Accessibility is Just for Sight-Impaired People

When talking about web accessibility, many people immediately think about sight impairments and screen readers.  Yes, this is a major focus of web accessibility and will likely become more important as the population ages and faces vision problems.  However, blindness and sight impairments are only one part of accessibility.

The disabilities which need to be addressed in web accessibility can be divided into 5 major groups:

  • Sight disabilities
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Physical disabilities
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Neurological disabilities

People with these types of disabilities can face very different problems when accessing the web.  Simply making your website accessible to screen readers is not a solution that ensures accessibility to all.   Remember, web accessibility is about creating ONE web experience for everyone – regardless of ability or disability.

Need help making your website accessible?  Monsido website accessibility tool can help.

See Monsido accessibility features here.