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Why is accessibility so often seen as a low priority?

Posted in Accessibility

A couple of recent CSS-Tricks articles got me thinking about how website owners approach accessibility.

In the more recent article, Chris Coyier transcribes a discussion on how difficult it can be for people with disabilities to use the web, highlighting that it’s actually illegal to make your website impossible to use:

under the Equality Act 2010, it’s not legal to create an inaccessible website, but what we’ve found is that government isn’t generally enforcing that as a law.

While (to my knowledge) we’ve not seen any law suits for this in the UK yet, in October 2019, Domino’s Pizza were successfully sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). But despite this precedent and the possibility of legal action here in the UK, accessibility is consistently treated as an afterthought, and even then it’s often dismissed as a nice-to-have.

This attitude is in contrast to an earlier CSS-Tricks article on cookies:

those “This site uses cookies, here’s some kind of explanation of why, and please click this OK button to accept that” bars that feels like they are on half of the internet

The part that jumps out at me is this:

Emily does a good job of rounding up the answer. It’s probably about what you think it is: a better safe than sorry play. Better annoy some users than get sued out of existence.

So it seems website owners are desperately trying to avoid being taken to court for tracking their visitors, while caring very little about the same consequences for being inaccessible.

There’s clearly a moral obligation on both fronts but website owners seem to pick and choose their legal obligations, and it got me wondering why.

Why don’t website owners prioritise accessibility?

Maybe caring little for accessibility is a short-sighted financial issue – investing in designers and developers who know how to produce accessible work isn’t the cheapest way of doing things and it’s easy to economise here at the expense of users with access needs. And a court case and a fine is expensive but unlikely, so maybe it’s viewed as worth the risk.

Perhaps it’s not just financial short-sightedness – it could also be that annoying complacency human beings seem to have in their own (current) lack of impairments. We’re all just temporarily abled, so shouldn’t we be building websites for our future selves?

I’ve heard clients dismiss accessibility with a “How many blind people use the website anyway” more than once.

  1. Accessibility isn’t just about non-sighted users
  2. Plenty of disabled users use the web on a regular basis and closing the door on them is both discriminatory and potentially throwing money away (“blind people” have money they can spend on your product too!)

My biggest concern is that it’s a form of ableism.

How do we fix this attitude?

In an ideal world, our clients would prioritise accessibility and properly budget for it, but that’s not always the case. So it’s also our responsibility as designers and developers to pay more attention to producing accessible websites, and consistently practice baking accessibility into our thinking from the start of our processes, whether research, design, development or testing.

How? Make accessibility an intrinsic part of what you do:

  • Ask more questions about inclusive design and accessible code
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – your good intentions will be appreciated and things can always be fixed
  • Play with tools like Wave and Axe
  • Read more articles
  • Watch more talks

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