When confronted with a digital accessibility issue, web developers often look for quick, easy solutions. Often, these solutions rely on the actions of the user:
- “If the color scheme isn’t accessible, users can just change the default colors by ignoring our CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).”
- “Our web animations are part of our website’s aesthetic. If people don’t like the animations, they can simply disable them in their browser settings.”
- “Our website doesn’t use accessible color contrast by default, but we offer a dark mode that users can toggle on and off.”
- “We use small text and graphics, but people can install a screen magnifier if they’re having trouble reading.”
All of these statements might be true, but the burden of accessibility shouldn’t fall on the user. Assistive technologies (AT) have come a long way, and people can overcome many common accessibility barriers by changing the way they use their computers — but why force them to take those steps?
When your website has an accessibility issue, you have a responsibility to fix it. Here’s the good news: Most fixes cost little or nothing to implement, and when you approach your work with an accessibility-first mindset, you’ll reach a much wider audience.
If your content requires users to change their software, your website isn’t robust
One of the four core principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is robustness: Web content should be compatible with a variety of user agents, which may include web browsers, assistive technologies, and other means of accessing the internet.
Most developers understand the importance of robust content. If your website works well in Google Chrome but doesn’t load in Mozilla Firefox, you’re missing an opportunity to connect with users.
This also applies to AT users. If people can’t use your website natively, they probably won’t keep trying; they’ll move on to another website with better accommodations.
When evaluating an accessibility issue, assume that your users will not change their browser settings, download a specialized extension, switch to your mobile app, or take other steps to fix the barrier. If your website doesn’t work with the user’s technologies, you’ve got work to do.
Get into the habit of asking questions when developing content:
- Does my content rely on a specific type of sensory perception?
- Are names, roles, and relationships programmatically determinable (the structure and content can be understood through the page’s markup)?
- If a user has a sensory or cognitive disability, can they understand the content as it appears on the page?
- Can users control and operate the content, regardless of whether they’re using a mouse, a keyboard, or another type of interface?
When you actively think about how people interact with your website, you’ll understand why asking users to change their browsing behavior is both unfair and impractical. WCAG simply provides a framework for asking the right questions.
“Other websites do it that way" isn’t a good excuse
Testing your content against WCAG allows you to measure your content’s accessibility. Content that meets WCAG’s Level AA success criteria can be considered reasonably accessible for most users with disabilities, and the guidelines contain simple pass-or-fail rules for analyzing (and fixing) barriers.
Comparing your website to another website is much less effective: According to a 2023 analysis from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), 96.3% of the internet’s top 1 million homepages had detectable WCAG failures.
Rather than comparing your website to your competitors, focus on the experiences of real-life users. If you find an accessibility issue, ask how it affects people with disabilities, and make sure that your remediation strategy starts (and ends) with the user.
An accessible mindset can help you remediate barriers in a way that makes sense — and find sustainable strategies for digital compliance.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility helps organizations build a proactive approach by combining powerful automation with expert guidance. To learn more, get started with a free automated web analysis or download our free eBook: Developing the Accessibility Mindset.