A Guide to the 7 Digital Accessibility Myths

January 24, 2023

When you work in digital accessibility, you hear a lot of things from customers, designers, developers, and agencies that just aren’t correct. Most are genuine misconceptions, but that doesn’t mean they’re harmless. At best, organizations can end up overspending on accessibility. But they also let organizations psych themselves out of pursuing greater accessibility out of fear that it will be too expensive or too difficult. And at worst, orgs might think they are accessibility conformant but are actually increasing their legal risk while missing out on the business benefits of digital accessibility.

In the interest of correcting the record, let’s bust some myths!

1. I don't have any customers with disabilities

You almost certainly do!

You almost certainly do! Approximately 20% of the population has one disability; for your particular business, the numbers might be different but it’s probably a very significant portion of your visitors, userbase, or customers.

In fact, the Click-Away Pound Report (PDF) found that web users with disabilities are likely to abandon an inaccessible site in favor of one that is easier to use. They are even willing to spend more (including paying higher prices) for an accessible shopping experience.

(If you’re interested in all of the stats and dollar figures, we cover this in more detail in the Business Case for Accessibility.)

It’s also worth keeping in mind that plaintiffs can file suit against you even if they aren’t technically customers. In many jurisdictions, courts have ruled that ADA testers have standing to sue even if they are not prospective customers.

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2. Accessibility is just alt text

Many people’s first exposure to accessibility is with adding alternative text for images. Alt text describes the contents of an image (or other non-text content), which allows screen readers to announce the image in context while reading the full page. And this is a very important aspect of building accessible content (though there are also a lot of misconceptions out there on how to create useful for alt text.)

In many ways, this myth is a subset of a larger misconception that digital accessibility is only for blind people. In fact, there are quite a few other users who run into barriers trying to use the web including those affected by:

  • Color blindness and other visual impairments
  • Deafness
  • Hardness of hearing
  • Loss of fine motor control
  • Epilepsy

As we age, we are all likely to experience some reduced vision, color perception, hearing, dexterity, or fine motor control. But even for blind or visually impaired users, accessibility is so much more than just alt text. Here is a partial list of other important considerations:

  • Screen reader compatibility
  • Color contrast for text and graphic elements
  • Keyboard navigability
  • Audio descriptions for video content

3. We can add accessibility just before launch

This is technically true. 

But it’s likely to create a lot of rework. And at that point, it may be harder to undo creative and technical decisions that you made early on in the project around UX, design, or development.

It’s much better to “shift left” and incorporate accessibility considerations into your projects from the very beginning. This will be smoother, quicker and ultimately a lot more cost-effective.

4. I've already done accessibility

Congrats!

As we just noted, prioritizing accessibility from the very beginning of a project is the best and most maintainable way to do it. If you built things the right way or if you’ve already made the effort to remediate your accessibility issues, you’re in better shape than most.

But accessibility isn’t a fully “set it and forget it” process. Unless you are planning to make zero changes to your website or mobile app, digital accessibility needs to be a part of your ongoing process. Your web team should incorporate accessibility testing into their development cycle. And you can’t forget about your content either; it’s critical to train your marketing and content teams to avoid introducing accessibility bugs as they create or edit pages.

5. Accessibility must start with an audit

Audits are a valuable tool for getting a comprehensive view of your current accessibility state. For many organizations, audits can be helpful in scoping the accessibility issues, identifying trends, and putting together a roadmap to bring the site into accessibility conformance. In other cases, an audit will be the capstone to a phase of work meant to verify or document the current level of conformance for a VPAT.

That said, audits are often overkill for your current situation. They are often expensive and create all-or-nothing expectations that full accessibility conformance is the only valid goal. Depending on circumstances, you should consider other entry points for accessibility such as targeted testing, remediation-first approaches, or coaching.

6. Accessibility is too expensive for my organization

Bringing on accessibility consultants can be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. (With thousands of lawsuits filed under the ADA each year, ignoring accessibility can also be expensive!)

As with anything else that requires expertise, you often get what you pay for. And if your organization and team are new to accessibility, you should budget for outside help from an accessibility tester or consultant. Access Armada prides itself on designing accessibility solutions for organizations of all sizes and budgets.

Of course, planning for accessibility in your design and development processes can be extremely cost effective. Even if you have already built your site, there are plenty of cost-effective entry points for accessibility including free resources like WAVE or Axe, training and coaching, targeted testing or audits, and high-impact remediation sprints.

7. I can automate accessibility with just one line of code

While there are many cost-effective digital accessibility solutions, automated accessibility overlays are not one of them.

When businesses believe that digital accessibility is automatically out of budget range, it’s no wonder they are susceptible to the (false) promise of overlays. Overlay vendors claim they can fully automate all accessibility remediation to bring a site into ADA compliance with just a single line of code. And the pricing is extremely attractive.

But unfortunately it’s too good to be true. One day, artificial intelligence may be up to the task of fully automating accessibility but for now, these tools regularly fail and often introduce net-new accessibility issues. Furthermore, many site visitors with disabilities have criticized overlays for interfering with their screen readers; there’s even a Chrome browser plugin to block these annoying overlays.  It’s no surprise that overlay customers account for almost 20% of accessibility lawsuits filed in 2022. 

Final thoughts

We have believed nearly all of these digital accessibility myths at points in the past. We all have to start somewhere and educating ourselves on accessibility requirements, methods and goals is part of the process.

Have any questions? Did we miss a myth? Feel free to reach out; our first strategy session is free and we love to help businesses figure out the best accessibility approach for their situation.

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