Sanna Kramsi - Blog A peek into my life

Common accessibility myths and misconceptions

September 24, 2023 | Accessibility

I hear a lot of misconceptions about accessibility that I'd like to try to correct today. Of course, these are mostly my opinions of things, but I have spent a lot of time on these topics so hopefully, I can broaden your mind a bit if nothing else.

Accessibility is ugly

This is a myth I still hear constantly. While it is true that accessible design can also be ugly, so can a design that isn't accessible. If proper color contrasts turn you completely off, then I'd say you have a problem. Accessible designs can be very beautiful and unique, it's all about the skills of the designer.

And yes, on some level you might be able to recognize a design that is accessible. But I don't see that as an issue. Because clarity and ease of use aren't something that we should consider problems. Use of a tool - whether it be online or not - should be as intuitive and as effortless as possible. At least to me, this is a purely positive thing. And this doesn't mean that you cannot design things that look visually pleasing.

But since we are unique beings with our own preferences, not everyone will like the same designs. That is a reality, but try not to put that on accessibility. Rather put it on design trends.

Accessibility is expensive

If accessibility is an afterthought, of course, it can be expensive to try to patch the inaccessible implementation. But when accessibility is involved in every step of the process, accessibility becomes a natural part of the process with much, much less cost.

If the functionality will be something fully custom, then you might need more work on the accessibility side. But in general, accessible web development doesn't require expensive extra work. When a designer and a developer are aware of what accessibility requires from them, they don't have to go back and forth to issue fixing.

Accessibility comes cheaper and cheaper with good processes, tools, and experience. And to be honest, even if it sometimes does cost a bit extra, the value from getting more users to your offering should make it worth your while. We are still talking about real human beings after all. And I think sometimes we still forget that and just focus on accessibility as some kind of an extra requirement that is not based on a real need.

My customers aren't blind, so why should I focus on accessibility?

I've still heard this from time to time but luckily less frequently than I did even just a few years ago. Some people have their own thoughts on who needs accessibility and they just assume their thoughts are correct. Most often they are not.

For example, accessibility is not just for people who are blind. Or people who use a wheelchair. People with disabilities are a large minority and every single one of us can become a part of that minority at any time. So think of it less as something for some small distant group but think of it as something for your future self. If you have a hard time being empathic to someone else's cause, then think about your own future. With age, it is more and more likely that we will need accessibility. Age vision, loss of motor skills, loss of hearing, etc. Those are just a couple of things that are very common age-related realities.

Accessibility really helps us all. Some areas of course more than others but as a whole it helps everyone. Clear and intuitive user experience should be something we all want. Even if you don't care about the people behind the requirements, care about the user experience for all users. But please, I ask you to try caring about the actual people behind the requirements! It will make all of this a lot easier to understand.

I shouldn't need accessibility audits because my website was made accessible from the start

Well, technically you would be correct to assume things are quite well. But that is only if everyone has indeed done their part correctly. And I'm not saying someone does things wrong on purpose. But we are all human and sometimes we make mistakes. And sometimes there can be a specific case where a specific feature or content fails that we just weren't able to predict beforehand.  And this isn't taking into account the possibility that not everyone who has touched the site knows what they are doing.

And the more people are involved, the easier it is to make a mistake on the site. But it's also good to remember that an accessibility audit takes a look at accessibility from every aspect of the site. So technical implementation, visual design, and the content all together.

So yes. Regardless of whether or not the site was made accessible, the state should still be monitored frequently. Usually, a yearly audit is recommended, but sometimes even more frequent is recommended. It all depends on how much the website is changed.

Accessibility audits are a waste of money because I can never rely on the auditor

This can unfortunately be a bit true. There currently aren't many ways of knowing if an auditor knows what they are doing. And the harsh truth is that some people don't know what they are doing with audits. Heck, even I do a lot better job nowadays than I did three years ago. There just is value to experience and expertise.

Check for accessibility certifications

One possibility is to check for an IAAP certification. In particular, their Web Accessibility Specialist certificate requires at least three years of experience with accessibility. And one way to achieve that experience is with audits. The certificate also requires you to understand the WCAG criteria. So this is something you can look for. And I'm not saying this just because I happen to have that certificate myself. But I've spent a lot of time trying to find certifications and trainings on accessibility so I know there aren't many credible certificates around.

But do also remember that no certificate is mandatory for a specialist. So while a certificate will tell you something, a lack of it might not be as telling.

Ask for the auditor's experience before spending money

You can also just ask how experienced the auditor is. Some companies have specialists/experts join forces with an "experience specialist" (don't know the English word for it, in Finnish we use the word kokemusasiantuntija), e.g. a screen reader user. You can always ask. And if the company won't give you any kind of details willingly, maybe choose someone else. I would be very suspicious of someone trying to hide these kinds of details. Of course, a person's name can sometimes be information that cannot be given, but at least something about their experience should be said.

And at least in the audits I do, I always include my name in the report. That makes possible communications in the future more fluent, should they need some more information from me. Not every company and auditor works the same way, though. I only know what I do.

I can use this third-party solution even if it isn't accessible

Many seem to think that you can use a third-party solution and just write off any accessibility issues it might have. But that is not the case. You are still responsible for the service you provide. So if you know a third-party solution is not accessible, you shouldn't use it. While you can and should report any issues it has to your accessibility statement, those issues would still need fixing just as much as any other problem in your service. And while it can be relieving to try to push some of the responsibility off to someone else, there is also the problem where you cannot influence them to fix the problems.

Is this issue really an issue for someone or is it made up by the rules?

This kind of mindset I see all around. I've heard it from designers, developers, and content creators, as well as from people who aren't working with the digital world. It usually involves some kind of a problem they don't see as meaningful to themselves. It can be color contrast, it can be understandability, it can basically be anything. It all depends on the level of understanding of the person in question. Just try to remember that because you don't understand why something is an issue, doesn't mean it's not an issue.

If an issue is reported, it indeed is an issue for someone. Will it be an issue for 90% of the users? Possibly not. But does it matter if it is an issue for 10% of the users? Of course, it does! Or if it is an issue for 1%? Or even a single user? YES! It is an issue. While I understand the need to prioritize something that might be an issue for the majority of the users, don't forget about the minority. That one single person might be someone who will make your product or service known to their group of friends and family. So if you think about nothing else, do think about the possibility of being able to get more users for whatever it is you offer.

And again, I do hope people will start to focus more on the people having these problems. If one of the people in the minority group was someone close to you, I'm quite sure you'd care more. And this is unfortunately true, we people tend to be selfish creatures. If someone we don't know has an issue, it matters to us less than if someone we know has exactly that same issue. But I have noticed that a lot of people don't just have the knowledge or understanding of how some issues can affect other people. So I've been actively trying to bring up the people behind the rules and requirements. And so far I think it has been working.

Why should I care about the users with disabilities, it's not like they will be able to use my product.

This sounds bad, doesn't it? But still, I've heard it. The motivation is usually the thought of spending more money and feeling like the money will not achieve anything. And yes, depending on the service/product, it might not indeed be for everyone. But the diversity of people with disabilities is very real. Not everyone with a disability is the same. And shouldn't they be allowed to choose for themselves if your offering is for them? If you neglect the needs of people with disabilities, I can guarantee you the consequences will be more far-reaching than you think. You don't think the word spreads about the quality of your offering? You don't think someone without a disability won't act on this information and use some other provider who doesn't ignore/neglect a group of people?

Accessibility is too hard, I can never be good enough

A lot of people feel like accessibility is such a wide topic of things that you always lack in something. And while that can be true, do remember that even one small accessibility improvement can be significant to your users. So just start improving your accessibility step by step. Nobody expects you to be able to get everything right the first time. Communicate your desire to be better in your accessibility statement and just work systematically to improve the issues you have. Your users will appreciate this!

Just keep learning and changing your old ways when you learn what is better for accessibility. Everyone has to start from somewhere. Accessibility is a continuous process, you're never done. And the WCAG requirements are just the minimum, you can always strive for better.

If you have a way to reach your users, you can also ask them for feedback. But do remember that if you request a lot from them, do pay people as well. Don't expect the people with disabilities to help you test and ideate without being compensated for their time. But do remember that the people who have accessibility needs are the people who know what might work best. Just don't forget that all people with disabilities are unique beings as well, for example, if you get an opinion from one person who is blind, they cannot speak for all people who are blind. But it is still a good starting point to get opinions and feedback from your real users. And this should also be something you do frequently, not only once.

Some things for you to think about if you are still unsure of the importance and effect of accessibility

Accessible content is better for non-native speakers. Accessible content doesn't require you to remember all acronyms or technical words. Accessible content doesn't require you to be an expert at a topic to understand the content.

Accessible design is intuitive to use. Accessible design is easy to use regardless of how many times you've used it. Accessible design is better for conditions like having sunshine on your mobile device.

Accessible implementations require less maintenance. Accessible implementations work with a mouse, a keyboard, a screen reader, and other assistive technologies. Accessible implementations also are getting more and more search engine visibility.

And last but not least, Accessibility is just good usability. And good user experience is accessible.