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Digital Accessibility Standards: 6 Common Myths

By Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet on Aug 2, 2023
Topics: Web Accessibility, Accessibility-First Culture


As we continue promoting accessibility knowledge to create more advocates and champions, re-educating those who have come across incorrect or misleading information must be a shared priority.

Those who are new to digital accessibility standards may not know enough to be aware they’re receiving misinformation, especially if it appears to come from an expert. In more extreme cases, they could be holding on to wrong information because it's the narrative that works for them. In any case, we are responsible for correcting these discrepancies if we’re aware of them—and for having the facts to back up our claims.

Below are six examples of misinformation I often hear and the factual truths behind them. As you look to address these issues, consider this article to be the digital accessibility version of the classic show MythBusters.


Digital Accessibility Myth #1: “Automated Scans Are Enough”

Of the 50 WCAG Success Criteria in 2.1 AA, automation can detect only portions of 16 criteria. Everything else requires an expert to do a code review and/or testing by manual means. Human intervention, supervision, and manual oversight are necessary for providing the most human-centered approach to digital accessibility. It’s absolutely crucial to scan and test for accessibility with real users, not just software.


Digital Accessibility Myth #2: “We Only Need to Consider People Who Are Blind and Using Screen Readers”

While this is undoubtedly a relevant group, it's far from the only disability to consider. Further, if you were to quantify disabilities by the number of people living with them, you would find that visual disabilities are among the smaller groups. According to Centers for Disease Control data, 4.8 percent of U.S. adults have a visual impairment. Of the other types of disabilities, Auditory is 6.1 percent, Cognitive is 12.8 percent, and Mobility is 12.1 percent. Although these numbers only represent reported chronic disabilities, they demonstrate that we must consider all types of disabilities in website and app development.


Digital Accessibility Myth #3: “People With Disabilities Aren't a Part of Our Audience”

Unfortunately, I've heard this more than once, especially from owners of sites that place a lot of value on interactive or highly visual designs. Claiming that no one with disabilities uses (or would want to use) a particular site is extremely alienating—and certainly a myth that can't be validated. Considering that approximately 1 in 4 adults live with a disability, it's ignorant to claim that no segments of a site's audience have a disability. Often, companies will use this claim to avoid designing for both accessibility and visual appeal.


Digital Accessibility Myth #4: “Accessibility Is a Developer's Responsibility” 

The responsibility of adhering to digital accessibility standards is essentially equal across the development, design, and content teams. According to UsableNet analysis, if you break down the 50 success criteria within the WCAG 2.1 AA, 37 percent are the primary development responsibility, 34 percent are the design teams, and 29 percent are the content teams. All contributors must keep accessibility in mind by making it a part of their project completion criteria. Digital accessibility is not just a job responsibility; it’s a continuous conversation between teams, leaders, and audience members alike.


Digital Accessibility Myth #5: “Accessibility Makes the Code More Complex to Understand and Maintain”

Application of digital accessibility standards often simplifies backend code because it follows the correct World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) HTML standards, which align with the WCAG Robust principle. When developers manage the code according to these standards, they make it easier for everyone to work with and understand.


Digital Accessibility Myth #6: “Prioritizing Accessibility Takes More Time”

Prioritizing accessibility on your website may take longer initially, but as the team becomes familiar with best practices, it becomes as second nature as the other tools, processes, and practices they use daily. In fact, teams may experience a time increase if proper steps aren't taken to familiarize them with accessibility efforts. Further, once the organization's mindset shifts to make accessibility a requirement, it won't be considered an "additional" obligation as it becomes a permanent part of the company culture.


Debunking Digital Accessibility Myths is Critical. Always Verify Your Facts and Sources.

In the hopes that this series of posts has helped you craft messages to help make accessibility part of your organization's mindset, I ask you to politely push back on related misconceptions. As you continue in your advocacy around digital accessibility, you'll likely experience similar misinformation that you'll need to correct. The best advice is to leverage trustworthy sources and double-check the details from multiple reputable sources if uncertain.

For more insights, check out the new free on-demand webinar, featuring the author Jeff Adams: How to Create a Culture of Digital Accessibility.

Illustration of people improving web accessibility and button to watch a demo

Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet

Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet

Jeff is UsableNet’s director of accessibility operations and advices companies around the world on best practices in website accessibility, and integrating accessibility into their processes. He’s been with UsableNet for more than a decade and is a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. In addition, Jeff’s a creative entrepreneur and co-wrote the book, “Content for Everyone: A Practical Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs to Produce Accessible and Usable Web Content.”

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