There are many myths and misconceptions when it comes to website accessibility. When site owners think about accessibility measures, they’re often working with many preconceived notions as to what makes a website usable by those with disabilities. For instance, many people think they need to completely redesign their site or go from an ultra-modern look and feel to an incredibly simplistic 1990s-style webpage — and this simply is not the case. These misconceptions about web design and overall aesthetics cause site owners to take the wrong approach in web design and usability or to attempt misguided efforts to address accessibility measures in the first place.
Here are 10 of the most common myths, misconceptions, and assumptions surrounding website accessibility that have been dispelled time and again, but might still be holding you back.
1. People who have disabilities do not use my website.
The World Health Organization estimates that about 15% of the global population has a disability, and most of this large swath of the population participates in today’s internet-centric culture. There is no way of knowing how much of your site's traffic is allocated to individuals with disabilities. Sophisticated analytics can tell you a lot about your site visitors' browsers, countries, or basic demographics, but they cannot tell you who has an impairment and who doesn't.
2. My personal website needs to meet ADA accessibility standards.
Currently, accessibility regulations apply to websites that provide "goods, services, and programs to the public," such as government websites, shopping, and e-commerce. This distinction can fall into a gray area based on traffic and intent of a website, meaning personal private sites aren’t necessarily subject to accessibility standards.
3. My web design needs to be simplified and, I daresay, boring, to be accessible to disabled individuals.
Accessible websites don't need to be stripped of the attributes that make them unique and fun to visit. This is often a mind over matter issue in that web developers tend to view accessibility guidelines as being more restrictive than they really are.
4. I only need to consider the needs of the blind when designing an accessible website.
Although blind users' needs are important in determining how accessible your website is, there are also users with motor impairments. Individuals who are colorblind, deaf or hard of hearing, and those with cognitive and neurological disabilities all have different design considerations as well. The end goal is to create one great user experience for everyone, regardless of any disabilities they have — or don’t have. Accessible design benefits everyone.
5. I only have to worry about accessibility guidelines if I’m a web developer or designer.
It’s true that web developers and designers must do most of the heavy lifting in creating accessible websites. But it is also management's responsibility to keep accessibility in mind, and the same goes for editors, artists, and anyone else involved in creating and managing the website.
6. Website accessibility is expensive and difficult.
WCAG guidelines can seem daunting at first. However, accessibility compliance isn't nearly as difficult or expensive as people tend to think it will be. Learning accessibility guidelines is also a good investment in that considering the needs of all the site’s users improves the quality of your web design over time.
7. It's impossible to make my content accessible.
The ADA requires reasonable efforts and accommodations, but you need not completely change your website. If your site features music, you don't have to stop using it simply because you might have deaf visitors.
8. My website needs to become text-only.
WCAG guidelines don't forbid you from using images, videos, and other assets. And including alternative text and removing color-based instructions won’t prevent you from having a visually-appealing and media-rich website. There's no need for a boring and dated-looking site that is text-only.
9. There is no economic benefit in making my website more accessible.
Although there are costs in making your site accessible, the economic benefits can be vast. Individuals with disabilities still comprise a sizable part of the population, and even users who do not have disabilities can benefit from a smoother user experience.
10. Automated evaluation tools are sufficient to determine my website’s accessibility.
Because WCAG guidelines are so objective, there is no substitute for manual testing with and without assistive technology. For instance, an automated tool can detect if alternative text is missing, but it cannot tell you if the description is apprporiate.
By taking the necessary steps to make sure your website is more accessible, you not only reduce your compliance risks, but you also create a better user experience for all. Accessibility isn't as difficult and expensive as it seems, and you don't have to give up a media-rich and highly-visual website to cater to a wider audience.