9 Web accessibility myths that business owners should know about (ADA compliance)
Because the topic of website accessibility is very technical there’s a lot of myths surrounding it, and these are often created by people who want to sell you something.
Over the years I worked on over 200 accessible websites following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (and previously 2.0) level AA and here are the top misconceptions that I came across.
1) An accessibility plugin can make my website accessible / ADA compliant
No, absolutely not.
I can’t stress enough how wrong this myth is. The “top accessibility plugins” on the market won’t help you in any way, shape, or form to avoid an ADA lawsuit because they simply don’t work and can even make your website less accessible. Since accessibility is a very niche and technical topic their marketing relies on your lack of knowledge on the matter.
I won’t go into detail about how such plugins fail to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines documentation which is the standard for making accessibility websites because it would be a very boring, technical, and long article. But if you are interested in the topic please check out this warning “Overlay Fact Sheet” signed by hundreds of accessibility specialists about the danger of such plugins.
2) An accessible website theme will make my website accessible / ADA compliant
While this solution might work, you have to keep in mind that everything you do on the website has to be accessible as well, just because you buy a safe car doesn’t mean you can’t hit a tree with it.
This includes all the content you add to the website; text, images, videos, etc. unfortunately without any knowledge about accessibility just using an accessible theme won’t make your website accessible.
Common problems include:
- videos that don’t have captions and subtitles
- images that don’t have text descriptions
- using heading tags for styling purposes or in the incorrect order
- using text color combinations that don’t have sufficient color contrast with the background
- adding non-descriptive link text like “click here”
And unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg because there is an infinite number of problems that can occur.
If your planning to add any third-party applications to the website unfortunately you can bet that they aren’t done with accessibility in mind.
This may include:
- any third party interactive element ( e.g map / video / tour / gallery)
So if you decide to use an accessible theme, make sure its author offers some kind of support/documentation to help you correctly manage the website.
3) I can add accessibility on top of my existing website.
Unfortunately in most modern websites, this is not the case. Accessibility is a niche subject and requires a lot of work and knowledge, and in most situations that I’ve seen, code from existing websites can’t be easily fixed and it’s simply best to start over. I had situations where brand new websites that didn’t even have a month had to be redone from the ground up to fix their accessibility problems and that is simply a waste of time and money.
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4) An automated test shows my website is 100% accessible
Simply put; no it doesn’t.
There is only a small number of accessibility issues that can be tested automatically. What these kinds of audits show you, is that you passed their very limited number of tests. Passing this test is more like signing your name on an exam paper than actually passing the exam, it’s a necessary and very simple first step.
Unfortunately, agencies often prey on their clients and show them these tests as “proof”, in such a situation know that you’re dealing with a scammer.
If however your testing your own site for problems, keep in mind that these tests check single pages! Having 100% on the home page doesn’t mean that your contact page is clear, you should check at least all of your unique templates and forms.
If you’re interested I recommend reading these two:
- Building the most inaccessible site possible with a perfect Lighthouse score
- List of the tests Axe Accessibility Engine (the software behind Google Chrome Lighthouse Audits) runs
5) Accessibility will make my website look worse
Unless you’re working for an advertising agency that’s developing a cutting-edge, provocative, and interactive website that is meant to go globally viral because of how unique and complicated it is you don’t have to worry about design restrictions.
While it is true, that accessibility might impact the design of your website in most cases that’s for the best for you and your business, because you’ve been doing something wrong up until this point.
Accessibility imposes a website to be intuitive, predictable, consistent, and work well on all devices. If a designer tells you that accessibility will make your website look worse, it’s because his designs have a problem with at least one of these requirements, aka bad designs.
Since web design is a low entry skill in web development a lot of designers don’t bother with learning how websites actually work and how visitors actually browse them. Fields like usability, user experience, accessibility, and digital marketing are abstract to most. They want to make a website look pretty in their portfolio, not be good for your business and your visitors.
6) Creating an accessible website is hard and costly
Depending on your situation there are two answers here:
- If a web development company told you that, they are incompetent and you should be looking for a different company. If something so basic as accessibility is hard for them then probably they’re not qualified to handle other web development issues for you either.
- If you’re creating a website on your own, accessibility is one of those things you’ll just have to learn until it’s second nature. Because web development, in general, has a low entry threshold to start and people tend to focus on immediate gratification the accessibility part of learning web development is often skipped. But once you learn accessibility and make it a part of your development process while it will take a bit longer to create a website the difference won’t be significant.
7) Only developers need to worry about accessibility and once the website is ready everything will be good
This is a similar situation to using an accessible template (myth #2). Because a big part of a website is its content, everyone who directly edits anything on the website has to know what they’re doing.
And because over time a lot of things on a website might change, periodic accessibility audits are also necessary.
8) Accessibility is optional
This is mostly a legal question and depends on where you live, but if you’re a USA-based business then: no it isn’t.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 made it illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities and imposed accessibility requirements on public accommodations.
While this act came into law before the Internet “was a thing” and it doesn’t mention websites by name, in a lot of discrimination court cases “public accommodations” was interpreted as also applying to websites. And since the number of ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits is on the rise year by year it’s better to not get sued over discrimination.
9) Accessibility doesn’t provide any benefits and I don’t need it
Besides not being a target for litigation from the previous myth there are many other reasons that accessibility can affect your bottom line.
Search Engine Optimization – following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines guarantees that your website is coded correctly:
- pages have correct titles that describe their content
- pages have a good heading structure
- the website code doesn’t have any errors
- all images have alternative texts
- all video/audio content have text alternatives
- all links describe their purpose
- the website has to be responsive (work on mobile phones correctly)
Good for all generations – Many older people have a problem with navigating through websites, WCAG aims for websites to be intuitive, predictable, and consistent.
Good contrast helps all – one of the more recognizable requirements for accessible websites is its text contrast requirements. Text contrast is the difference in light between the text and its background. Low contrast can not only make it harder to read your website for people with vision impairments but also for people browsing your website on mobile phones while outdoors, and depending on your industry, mobile can be responsible for most of your traffic.
Subtitles and transcripts are good for all – this is a similar situation, if your offering video or audio content a text alternative is a benefit to your visitors. People might want to consume your content in a loud environment where subtitles are beneficial, not understand what’s being said and want text clarification, or just prefer to read instead of listening.
Good web forms help all – web forms that have clear labels, instructions on how to fill them, information on what fields are required and error reporting are simply a must have for all websites.
For more information about this topic I reccomend this WAI article The Business Case for Digital Accessibility