11 Web Accessibility Myths

Written by Ben Leach on

We’ve heard it all before. Whether you’re a sceptic, a newbie, or an advocate – you’ve probably got some preconceptions about accessibility. So here’s the top 11 Web Accessibility Myths: Busted.

Chat screen showing someone saying "My website is accessible, the automated tests said so" and an icon of HeX replying

Web accessibility isn’t something that’s new. Back in 1997, the Web Accessibility Initiative was formed. Two years later, the World Wide Web Consortium created the first edition of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

We’re currently on the third iteration of WCAG (WCAG 2.1) , but web accessibility is still new to some. If you’re just starting to think about accessibility as an organisation, that’s great. You may have some preconceptions about it. That’s why we wanted to run through the top 11 myths about accessibility…and bust them!

1. “Accessible sites are ugly or boring” 

‘Accessible sites are ugly and boring’ is far too common of a statement to be false, right? Wrong! In the early days of the Internet, this might’ve been true. Plain text websites were considered the only acceptable solution to those using screen readers and other assistive technology. And plain text sites, are of course, considered simple, ugly and boring by today’s standards. 

Times have moved on since, so has technology, and so have the guidelines. Accessible websites don’t have to be restricted to plain text. In fact, some of the most visually pleasing websites are accessible. It’s completely possible to have a beautiful, media-rich, interactive and accessible website. 

2. “Web accessibility is a developer’s job”

In the most part, the functionality and technical aspects of a website are down to the developer. Surely that means all accessibility changes fall into the remit of a developer too? In many ways, yes, but to say that accessibility is the sole role of a developer is false. 

Every single person who contributes and manages a website has to be responsible for accessibility. Whether this is a content writer, or a project manager, or even the CEO; everyone needs to be on-board to deliver accessibility effectively. To say it’s the sole job of a developer is false – accessibility needs to be embraced by everyone in an organisation. 

3. “Accessibility costs lots of money”

This one is difficult to answer. If you’re building a website from scratch, it shouldn’t be more expensive to implement accessibility. But if you’re implementing accessibility on a pre-existing site, it may take more people, and as a result, cost more in terms of ‘man hours.’ 

Thinking about accessibility at the very beginning of a project will mean that less work in the future. Ultimately, it will cost the exact same as if you were creating an inaccessible website. It’s worth looking at laws and public perception. Are you likely to get fined or lose business for not implementing accessibility? The answer is yes, in most cases. So, offering accessible services is often better than losing money to litigation

4. “Accessibility is time consuming”

Considering accessibility at the very beginning of a project takes no extra time. Nor will it take more time to develop. The key to this, is implementing accessibility from the very beginning of the process. 

If you go in at the end, you may find yourself at a time disadvantage. Losing hours to fix accessibility problems that could’ve been ironed out in the wireframe or design stage.  Introduce accessibility as part of your ‘Business as Usual’ tasks so that anything produced going forward can be improved! You can also identify key areas for improvement with an audit. Take positive steps towards changing a little bit at a time. The key is to create a plan to implement changes. 

5. “I don’t need to be accessible – disabled users don’t use my website…”

If you think like that, then that’s probably why no one with disabilities uses your site. It’s comparable with saying that a top floor restaurant doesn’t need a lift because no wheelchair users use the restaurant. It’s a case of confusing cause and effect. There are more than 650 million disabled people around the world and denying each of those people access to your website could be holding you back. 

Let’s take it back to the top floor restaurant. Building a lift makes it accessible to users with wheelchairs, but it makes things easier for everyone else too. Similarly, the WCAG guidelines mention building sites with clear layouts and consistent navigation. Whilst they’re beneficial for disabled users, these are things that everyone relies on to have an easier time on the web. So, even if disabled users don’t use your website – making it accessible for everyone is surely a good thing? 

6. “Accessibility is optional, though”

No. Accessibility isn’t optional. In short, if you’re a public sector organisation, you’re regulated by the new Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018. And if you’re anyone else, you need to adhere to the Equality Act 2010 which makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability. 

7. “I’m worried about my website’s code becoming bloated”

Despite this misconception, accessibility does not bloat any website’s code if it’s done thoughtfully, and with consideration from the beginning. Accessibility is all about developing a website in the right way. This won’t require any extensive code additions or any unnecessary code that draws away from the functionality of the website. It actually improves your SEO. And when produced correctly, can help you future proof your site and give it the potential to interact with voice assistants. 

8.“My site passes automated testing, that means it’s accessible, right?

No. Not at all. Automated tests are great for picking up on things like empty links, missing form labels, incorrect heading structure and missing alt text. But they shouldn’t be taken as gospel. Automated tests can’t take into account the overall usability of the website. Nor can they accurately understand the colour contrast or the context of what is being written on your website. 

The only people who are able to do that, are disabled user testers. Those who have disabilities and manually test sites for their functionality. Disabled user testers, like those at Shaw Trust Accessibility Services, are an essential piece of the testing process. 

9. “Every development agency knows what accessibility is”

Whilst we wish this was the case, not everyone knows how to implement accessibility. Or even what it is. Whilst there are some great people out there, there are others who aren’t so great. Find an agency that has a good reputation within the accessibility industry.

It’s worth spending time doing your research. Ask to see examples of an agency’s work and proof that they understand how to change elements for screen readers. A good agency will be able to demonstrate screen reader usability if asked. 

Just remember that not everyone knows what accessibility is, or how to effectively implement this on your site. 

10. “My website is 100% accessible – I’ve been told.” 

Firstly, there’s no such thing as “100% accessible”. Believe it or not, there will always be someone who struggles to use your site. But, as long as you’re committed to making it the best it can possibly be, you are doing the right thing. 

Similarly, just because someone tells you that something is accessible, it’s important to ask more questions. Ask them how they’ve tested it, ask them to explain how they know, and remember the arguments of User Vs Automated Testing. If they don’t use disabled user testers (as explained above) then chances are – it isn’t accessible! 

11. “My website has a plugin that allows it to be accessible, that’s enough.”

Typically, someone who has a disability will already have assistive technology on their personal computer. They will use their own assistive tech to help them navigate websites. Rather than relying on websites to supply the assistive technology. Plugins that allow you to zoom in text, have the text read-aloud or change the colour or font of the website’s text can sometimes be pointless. Usually, this person will already have assistive tech that can do this for them. 

Instead of making room for these plugins and website add-ons, we would advise that it’s better to concentrate on improving access for those using their own assistive technology. Rather than these third-party plugins that are costing you on a monthly/yearly basis. Why not invest money into making small improvements on your website? Taking positive steps towards making it more usable for search engines. This is a better way to improve your reach and invest in the future of your website and your business.

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