Misconceptions about web accessibility
- Isn’t web accessibility just for blind or partially-sighted people?
- My page looks fine on my machine! Most people will see it on Internet Explorer using Windows XP anyway.
- Shouldn’t people view the website the way the designer intended?
- Don’t accessible websites look a bit boring?
- We don’t need our pages to be accessible as we are not targeting those audiences.
The last statement in that list is the most mistaken - it is actually discriminatory and therefore illegal. We target a number of different audience groups, amongst whom can be included all manner of people with various disabilities that affect how they use the web - we simply cannot predict, and should not make assumptions. The law states we must not discriminate against people with disabilities by excluding them from our service provision in this way. So we need to design our web pages inclusively.
Legislation that has driven web accessibility focuses on web use by people with disabilities, and many of the examples provided in arguing for accessibility are based on blind users, simply because it’s a disability whose affect on the user’s experience of the web can be fairly easily understood. But a fundamental factor to appreciate is that when we design web pages we do not have control over what machinery our users view them on or how it will appear to them.
Some people may be using specialist assistive software such as screen readers, speech browsers, or screen magnifiers, or they may have to rely on a keyboard or joystick instead of a mouse; others may simply be making use of special settings in their browsers. All users, with or without a disability, can be using any combination of operating system, browser, display settings, internet connection, all of which means they may not see what you see on your screen, and you cannot control this.
That is why we need to provide web pages that can be flexible enough to still be accessible in as many of the ways users are reading them as possible.
Don’t be boring
Accessible web pages certainly do not have to be boring! Adhering to accessibility standards does not prevent the use of multimedia technology that makes the Web so dynamic, but we need to ensure that the content of web pages is available even when those newer technologies are not turned on or are unavailable to users.
Nor is it necessary to produce alternative text-only versions of all your pages (although it may be decided in some cases that this cannot be avoided). Not only is this unnecessary extra work, the text-only version often becomes ‘secondary’ to the main site and isn’t updated as often as the primary pages.
More popular accessibility myths debunked
Some popular misconceptions about what web accessibility means are debunked in this article on web accessibility myths from the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB).