Digital Accessibility Myths & Facts

MYTH: Using Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) techniques is necessary to achieve WCAG conformance. 

FACT: Using WCAG techniques isn’t a prerequisite for achieving WCAG conformance. However, using these techniques, which are developed to guide and inform, will definitely help you get closer to that goal. W3C’s WCAG techniques are categorized as sufficient and advisory. Sufficient techniques are documented, dependable ways to meet the success criteria. Advisory techniques are suggestions for making your website more accessible, but they won’t necessarily help you fully meet the success criteria. WCAG techniques don’t cover every possible approach to achieving conformance. You may come up with some of your own techniques to make your digital more accessible and conform to WCAG. What really matters is that your digital assets meet WCAG success criteria and are accessible to users with a wide range of abilities.

Related resource: WCAG 2 FAQ (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative)

MYTH: Automated scanning tools can ensure complete website accessibility.

FACT: No automated website evaluation tool can solve for total digital accessibility. That said, automated scanning and testing tools are cost-effective, easy to use, and can quickly catch a broad range of issues across websites of all sizes with all sorts of content. Bottom line—keep in mind that if all you use is an automated scanning tool, 75 percent or more of the WCAG success criteria aren’t even being tested. No artificial intelligence or AI has been able to replicate the human mind in testing accessibility. The only way to get a true and comprehensive picture of the accessibility of your digital assets is to include human testing performed by people with a variety of disabilities using different assistive technologies.

Related resource: Automated Accessibility Testing Tools: How Much Do Scans Catch? (eSSENTIAL Accessibility)

MYTH: WCAG benefits mainly people who are blind or have low vision.

FACT: While ensuring that your website and other digital assets are accessible to people who are blind or have low vision is critical, there’s no single disability or access need that dominates WCAG’s success criteria. It’s important to understand the breadth of disabilities people experience and different individuals’ experiences when interacting with technology. Some disabilities may be temporary, while others may be permanent. Others may not be visible or readily apparent. Ensuring people with mobility, hearing, learning and other disabilities can engage with digital assets in a meaningful way requires specific, intentional efforts on the part of developers, designers and content authors.  

Related resource: Diverse Abilities and Barriers–How People with Disabilities Use the Web (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative)

MYTH: Developers play the most important role in making websites accessible.

FACT: There’s no doubt that developers play a central role in making and keeping websites and other digital assets accessible. But the responsibility for achieving that goal and meeting WCAG success criteria rests on many shoulders—developers, designers, content authors, project managers, and UX specialists to name a few. When designers deliver accessible designs, for example, this allows developers to focus on following the design specifications instead of fixing issues flagged by testers. When developers are working with clean, accessible designs and well-structured content, testers can focus less on discovering accessibility problems and more on verifying that accessibility solutions have been successfully implemented and WCAG success criteria have been met. Making websites and other digital assets as accessible as possible is (or should be) a team effort within every organization.

Related resource: Developing for Web Accessibility (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative)

MYTH: Assistive technology (AT) used by many people with disabilities can eliminate most digital accessibility issues.

FACT: The function of assistive technology isn’t to fix web accessibility issues. Think of AT as a tool that makes it possible for people with certain disabilities or functional needs to perform tasks or engage in activities they might otherwise not be able to. In the case of AT used for the purpose of reading and navigating websites, we need to remember that AT alone, no matter how effective or elaborate, can never guarantee accessibility. AT and digital accessibility complement one another, so unless websites and other digital assets are developed and designed with accessibility in mind, AT such as screen readers, head pointers, voice-to-text functions, and screen magnifiers may be rendered useless. 

Related resource: Tools and Techniques–How People with Disabilities Use the Web (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative)

MYTH: If a website meets all the success criteria of WCAG 2.1 you still need to make sure it conforms to WCAG 2.0.

FACT: It’s best not to think of WCAG 2.1 as a replacement for version 2.0—it’s more accurate to think of it as an extension of the former version. This is  often described as “backwards compatibility,” meaning if your website meets the requirements of WCAG 2.1, you’ve automatically met them for 2.0. WCAG 2.1 was developed to enhance accessibility for users with cognitive or learning disabilities and users with low vision, as well as users with disabilities or functional needs who use mobile devices. Bottom line—if you want to meet both WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1, let 2.1 be your guide. 

Related resource: WCAG 2 Overview (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative)

MYTH: “Web content” refers only to the text on your website.

FACT: In the book “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web,” Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville refer to content as “the stuff in your website.” While that “stuff” obviously includes all the text (words) on your website in the form of blogs, press releases, fact sheets and other resources, it also includes other information in web pages and applications, such as images, videos, and audio. Web content also refers to what you can’t see. It includes behind-the-scenes content such as alt text, scripts, and code or markup that defines how content is organized and presented to the user. Because web content covers so much territory, making it accessible requires the combined efforts of developers, designers, and content writers.

Related resource: Accessibility Principles (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative)