Web Accessibility Made Easy Part 1: Mythbusting

This is the first in a series of posts about web accessibility that will give an in-depth look at the topic, using IU’s guidelines, as well as the web accessibility standards documents from which they were derived. Through these posts you can learn correct and easy ways to make your websites accessible so that they can be used by everyone.

Web Accessibility Myths:

1. The BIG one: Making a website accessible is a long, involved and costly process.

This is half-true. If your current web site is not accessible, it can be a lengthy process to make it accessible. But, if from the beginning, your web development work incorporates the techniques described in these blog posts, creating an accessible web site will add little time to the design process.

2. Web accessibility can be validated with an automated process just like HTML.

This is also half-true. Many web accessibility guidelines can be tested using automated validators. But this does not tell the whole story. For example, just because an image on a web page has an “alt” tag does not mean that the tag provides helpful, relevant information. Keep in mind that retroactive fixes to an inaccessible web site will take extra time. Including web accessibility in the design from the beginning will take no time at all. And a site that is accessible is will be more usable for everyone.

3. No one with a disability uses or visits my site

While this could be true, there is no way of verifying this statement. For one thing if an individual with a disability cannot successfully use a web site, they will quickly seek alternative web sites. The major disabilities are impairment of hearing, seeing, thinking (cognitive), and mobility. Some disabilities are visible, some are hidden. Some are permanent, some are temporary. 18.7% or 54.4 million people in the US report some sort of disability (US Census Bureau [pdf]). With these statistics in mind, it is fair to conclude that someone with a disability has or will try to view your site.

4. A text-only version of your web site is a great accessible alternative.

Does reading the book that a movie was based on give the same experience? Probably not. A text-only version is accessible and does meet some of the guidelines, yet the experience is not the same. And more importantly, while you may remember to update your web site with current information, maintenance of a current text-only version is often forgotten, creating unequal information access. Today most assistive technology programs today work with CSS, can access Flash movies and can deal with JavaScript. As a result, users with disabilities can access content that is correctly coded. So why limit them to a text-based version of your site?

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