The Top Four Myths about Web Accessibility
The Web Accessibility Initiative was launched in 1997, yet this many years later, it is still a widely ignored and neglected aspect of web development. There are many deep-rooted misconceptions about accessibility that prevent people from making a conscious effort to incorporate accessibility into their websites.
Let’s take a look at the top four web accessibility myths.
Myth #1: Accessibility is only for the disabled. Though the main purpose of accessibility testing is to serve differently abled users, there are many instances in which implementing accessibility guidelines have benefited the overall user base.
For example, one application I was testing was quite heavy on images, so in the accessibility test summary report, I suggested that around one hundred fifty images be replaced with alternative texts. This achieved accessibility compliance, but because a large number of heavy images were removed, the overall performance of the application was also faster. The pages that had taken around two seconds to load with images started loading in less than a second.
So even though performance improvement was never an integral part of the original requirements, by addressing the accessibility concerns, we were able to improve the performance of the application and benefit the entire user base.
Myth #2: Accessible websites are ugly and boring. True, some of them are—but so are millions of other totally inaccessible websites. Accessibility has nothing to do with how visually attractive or interesting a website is.
The misconception comes from the early days of the Internet, when technology restricted the developer’s choice in terms of accessibility and design. But times have changed. It is now absolutely possible to create a beautiful, media-rich, interactive, and engaging website that is also accessible.
Accessibility guidelines don’t forbid anyone to use images, videos, or Java scripts on their websites. The only suggestion is that if you do, make sure that the content of the website is still accessible to all sets of users.
Myth #3: Developing an accessible website is expensive and time-consuming. There is no special Accessible HTML or Accessible CSS. The same languages and technologies are used, but perhaps with more understanding, attention to detail, and in accordance with some guidelines. Creating an accessible website is not a particularly expensive or time-consuming process, especially if you do things the right way from the beginning.
Myth #4: Automated tools are enough. Automated evaluation tools are very helpful, as they can reduce the time and effort necessary for accessibility testing by identifying some potential issues.
However, they can’t replace manual testing. Many of the accessibility checkpoints are not objective enough to be tested automatically, so they require human intervention and judgment. For example, an automation tool can check if an image has an alternate text description, but it won’t be able to judge if the description provided by the text is accurate and meaningful.
It is important that people of all abilities are able to access the websites they want. If misconceptions about what it takes to develop and test accessible websites are disproven, hopefully it will result in more widespread accessibility.