The laws and best practices around website accessibility can seem forbiddingly complex at first sight. Unhelpfully, there are also several myths and half-truths in circulation, which can muddy the waters and give companies a false sense of security about the accessibility of their digital content. It’s vital to make sure your website is accessible to people with disabilities, so the goal of this short blog post is to bust some of the more common myths and get you on track for compliance!
What is website accessibility, and why should you care?
Website accessibility is the practice of making your website usable by the widest possible group of people, regardless of their ability. Generally, online accessibility refers to functionality designed for individuals with disabilities — those who may have a visual impairment, an auditory limitation, motor control difficulties, neurological disorders, a learning disability, or age-related ability impairment.
If your site is not created to properly function with Assistive Technology (AT) — such as a screen reader — people with disabilities will essentially be blocked from engaging with your content. In the physical space, this would be the equivalent of building a restaurant with no wheelchair access. It’s against the law, and it’s uncommon.
The same standards should apply to website accessibility. As we deepen our dependency on online interactions — paying bills, virtual education, shopping, even socializing — all individuals of every ability deserve the right to a barrier-free interaction.
There’s also a compliance driver. More and more frequently, U.S. federal courts are ruling that website accessibility is a requirement stipulated in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). This means website accessibility is not only a moral obligation, but also a legal one.
Common myths in website accessibility
Myth 1: Only a small percentage of the global population has a disability.
This is the biggest myth out there, and it most likely stems from the invisibility of many disabilities. Disabilities may present no obvious physical signs to the untrained eye, and of course many disabilities make it difficult for people to take part in the same activities as people without disabilities. The net result? Many people are simply unaware that a large number of their fellow citizens are living with a disability.
The numbers may surprise you:vv In the US, the proportion is larger still: the CDC estimates that 26% of US adults are living with a disability.
Myth 2: Making a website accessible is costly and time-consuming
The truth is, making a website compliant and immediately more accessible does not have to take a significant amount of time or cost a lot of money.
Our research suggests that around two-thirds of accessibility issues can be uncovered and resolved using automated technology, which massively accelerates and reduces the costs of remediation. Signing up with a provider of digital accessibility services can mean your website is protected from the first day of installation, with artificial intelligence (AI) technology immediately finding and fixing hundreds of the most common errors.
Myth 3: Using automated tools on my site is all you need to do to make it accessible
More than 65% of companies surveyed by AudioEye believe simply adding a toolbar to a website makes it accessible. More than half think AI, or automation, alone equates to a site that is fully functional for all users.
Here’s the fact: Artificial intelligence is sophisticated and getting better. But automation on its own will never identify and fix every accessibility error. A computer simply cannot interpret intent or contextual meaning. The limited scope of even the most advanced automation will leave many compliance issues unresolved and your company at risk.
That’s not to say automation and toolbars are useless. These are vital elements in an accessibility tool kit that should include regular monitoring, manual testing led by human experts, reporting, analytics, and a method by which users can report barriers they encounter. A hybrid approach that combines technology and people is a great way to achieve and maintain an accessible online experience.
Myth 4: Digital accessibility is only needed for those who are blind or who have low vision
Most believe that a visual impairment is the most prominent disability impacted by an inaccessible website.
The fact is, mobility problems and cognitive issues impact a higher percentage of the population than visual impairments. This means website accessibility is essential for those who are not able to move their hands or arms and require a switch device, as well as those who have dyslexia and need the option to switch to a more legible font to easily read your online information.
Accessibility also impacts aging users, including those who experience declining vision and need a higher contrast or a larger font, have difficulty hearing, or struggle with motor control.
Bottom line: an accessible digital experience benefits users of all abilities. And design doesn’t have to suffer in the process.
Myth 5: Digital accessibility applies only to websites in the US
While it’s true that the US has one of the strongest legal frameworks around digital accessibility — including both federal and state laws — most developed countries around the globe have enacted legislation to protect the rights of users who have a disability. The legislation is particularly well-developed and far-reaching in the European Union, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Israel.
Depending on what your organization does, how it is funded, where it is headquartered, where it operates, and whether it offers a transactional website, you may be required to comply with one or more of these laws.
Myth 6: Digital accessibility applies only if you also have a brick-and-mortar store
According to Title III of the ADA, discrimination is prohibited in any “place of public accommodation”. Legal precedent in numerous cases has firmly established that websites are regarded as places of public accommodation, just as much as physical stores. And while there are certainly some nuances in how the law is interpreted, especially around the status of non-transactional websites, any business with an internet presence needs to comply with digital accessibility legislation — or run the risk of costly legal action and reputational damage.
Myth 7: Digital accessibility doesn’t apply if you have 15 or fewer employees
The reference to “place of public accommodation” in Title III of the ADA makes no special exemptions for small companies. You can’t claim that your business is too small to be able to comply, nor can you plead ignorance of the law: the ADA is a “strict liability law,” so there are no excuses for non-compliance. Besides which — see also myth 2 — compliance needn’t be excessively costly or time-confusing.
Fact: web accessibility is smart business
In ethical terms, individuals of all abilities deserve the right to barrier-free use of the web. And as we’ve seen, there are strong legal incentives for ensuring that your website is as accessible as possible.
But for businesses, perhaps the most convincing arguments are those that concern the bottom line. If you don’t take accessibility seriously, people with disabilities will essentially be blocked from engaging fully with your content — and that’s potentially one-fourth of the US population! Don’t be fooled by myths and misconceptions: invest in accessibility for your website.
At AudioEye, we believe in equal access for all, and we want to help you achieve it. Start your free trial of AudioEye today.