digital media access group
...excellent accessibility research and consultancy
This is a archived version of the DMAG website, but the information remains for reference. Please visit the new website for updated information.
Accessible Design - Myths Exploded
There are many myths surrounding accessible design - this page aims to dispel some of them.
"Accessible sites have no colour or pictures; multimedia is not allowed!"
There is no reason why accessible web sites should have no colour or pictures. In fact, for some people with certain disabilities, the use of colour and pictures is important. Without them the web site has difficulty standing out from the crowd. When it comes to colour or pictures the most important thing is to be sensible. There is little point in producing coloured text on a background that most people cannot read.
One important step is making sure that all pictures have alternative text that is equivalent to the picture and its purpose. This means avoiding the situation where alternative text for a map simply says 'map', and instead providing alternative text that describes the map in a useful way.
We certainly don't want to stifle creativity or tell designers to stop using Flash, Shockwave and other technologies for providing a rich, stimulating experience on the Web. All we ask is that design decisions are not made which exclude certain users from accessing information.
"Accessible sites must be separate versions of the main site!"
If a separate version of the site is provided, how often would you update it? Probably not as often as the 'normal' version. Even if you use a content management system or database to store your web information, the presence of a separate 'accessible' version of a site can often give users the impression of a second-best option.
In the vast majority of cases, there is no reason, if a site is designed wisely, for needing a separate 'accessible' version. Indeed, by ensuring one optimally accessible site, you are likely to provide a more usable site for all visitors.
"Accessible web design is an unnecessary extra, just catering for the demands of a few disabled people"
Absolutely not - accessible web design benefits everyone - whether or not they are disabled, or handicapped, by their browsing technology or environment.
"I can't afford to design an accessible site - it is not worth the money"
Consider the economic benefits of making your site as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, particularly if your site is there to make you money. So there is a chance of making more money. As for it costing too much to incorporate accessible design, you can build it into the design process with very little extra effort.
"Blind people can't use web sites, just like they can't drive cars"
Blind people use text-to-speech conversion software to "hear" the contents of web pages; some use devices to convert the contents of the screen to Braille. All you as a designer have to do is to make sure that all the information contained in a web page is available in a comprehensible manner to these devices - whic means ensuring that information is available somewhere in the site in text form.
"People should upgrade their browsers before complaining about access problems"
This might be a fair point, but for the fact that many people are quite unable to do anything about their browsing set-up. Many people across the world are accessing the Web through old PCs with slow connections in their local college or community centre because it's all that's available. Many people are restricted in their use of browsers for financial and technical reasons or because of a disability. Many people do not know how to, or do not want to upgrade their browser.
There's nothing wrong with harnessing the power advanced browsers to provide an enhanced experienced on the web, but designers need to be aware of users for whom upgrading is not an option.
The power of the World Wide Web to liberate people, by providing information and services in a way best suited to them, is immense. The Web can make activities like shopping, finding out the latest news, education and communication, much easier for all of us, and particularly for people who are disadvantaged for reasons of disability, economic or geographic status. We want to see the Web and its technologies pushed forward to reach its full potential, but not at the expense of the individuals who have most to gain from the Web.