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The Problem with Not Making Websites Accessible by Default

Nov 18, 2019

Some website operators, just like the owners of some physical locations, approach accessibility in this way: they allow major accessibility gaps to exist and rely on people with disabilities to ask for accommodations. While it's better than giving people no options for access, even if with good intentions, not making websites accessible by default has several serious issues.

Here are some of the ways this approach negatively impacts real people.

Loss of privacy

When an accessibility strategy requires a person with a disability to ask for accommodations, it necessarily also requires that person to be comfortable or willing to disclose their disability. The assumption that someone doesn't want to shop or learn or engage online without public awareness of their disability is a faulty one.

Some people with disabilities view the online space as an equalizer, where stereotypes and condescension can often be avoided. Forcing someone to reveal their disability erases that privacy.

Exposure to stereotypes

The assumptions made here are often rooted in stereotypes, and those stereotypes can be demoralizing, disrespectful, and simply inaccurate. The assumptions might be that people with disabilities:

  • Don't need or have the money for their product
  • Don't have the capacity to make purchases
  • Have "helpers" to do things for them

It's also one of the most common digital accessibility myths that people with disabilities don't use computers.


One of the amazing benefits of the internet is how quickly we can do things — from searching a historical fact to win a bet, to making an online banking transfer, to buying something online to pick up in-store in an hour. Why would people with disabilities not want or need to do these things right now? Why would they have extra time to try to contact an organization and request an accommodation, and then wait (or hope) for that request to be met?

One of the ways the Bureau of Internet Accessibility combats this is by offering our clients' website visitors access to a dedicated 24/7 accessibility support line.

Related: What if your customers could resolve accessibility issues in real-time?

No other options?

This one might be more an impact to the company, but it's an important one to call out. Organizations who make some of the assumptions here must also be assuming that people with disabilities don't have other options and won't simply take their business to a more accessible competitor. More and more organizations are taking web accessibility seriously and realizing its power and benefits, and those organizations (like the most popular websites in the world) will win the business.


Maybe there's a more accurate term for this than "burnout" — choose whatever suits you — but the concept remains the same. Many people with disabilities are often proactive in their accessibility needs, but sometimes encountering one more place that's inaccessible can be disheartening and draining.

Many people with disabilities face at least one incident of discrimination every day, and this can wear people down over time. Being singled-out, being discriminated against, and being prevented from doing basic things when known and proven fixes are in place can take a lot of energy to overcome.

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