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Why Bother with Accessibility?


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Nice article. Taking the Amazon site as an example, I think it highlights exactly why a sites accessibility is hard to judge. It comes out well in the Wave score but for me trying to navigate it via a keyboard is almost impossible (Windows: Chrome, IE11 (Firefox fares slightly better). So there are so many aspects to it and clearly browsers have their own impact on it as well.

Graham Armfield

This is a great article Laura. You’ve highlighted that there is a solid business case for accessibility – something that some organisations are slow to embrace.

One other aspect that you didn’t mention is the legal aspect. In the UK the Equality Act does specifically mention an obligation for websites to be accessible. And legal cases do get started – see RNIB vs BMI Baby (

When I’m testing websites for accessibility I use the Wave tool a lot, but as a Firefox add-on – which I prefer as you can use it for intranet and development area testing as well.


Victor makes the point that “I find that by focusing just on the disabled you’re not selling this ‘accessibility-thing’ to the non-believers.”

Personally, I find the exact opposite. That if you focus on the additional benefits rather than the needs of users with disabilities, you give people an excuse to ignore it, because they can say ‘we don’t mind losing those extra benefits’.

Accessibility is about the needs of people with disabilities. That’s what it’s about. The extra benefits are great, but they’re just that — extra benefits, not the core purpose.

Maybe we just need a new word for it :-) Maybe the word “accessibility” is just loaded to with too much baggage.

But what to choose instead? “universal design” is basically a myth, and “inclusive design” smacks of liberal fascism to me (though I can’t say that’s rational, or why it makes me feel uneasy, it just does!)

I’m generally of the view that accessibility should not be treated as a separate subject at all. Accessibility is not a feature, it’s a process — it’s as indivisible from HTML, as the cascade is from CSS, or prototyping is from JavaScript.


Great article! Wave is a great tool, however it is a little bit poor in analysing contrast so i would recomend to evaluate the color visibility and contrast of foreground/background color combinations and some visual conditions. I also found very helpful when it comes to learn about accessibility.

Thank you.

Paul d'Aoust

Thanks for this article — I’ve always been somewhat scared of that mysterious miasma called ‘accessibility’, and dubious of the business case (even after I had a nice chat with a customer of one of my clients who is completely blind) but you showed that (a) it doesn’t need to be so hard, and (b) it’s not just the seriously disabled but also the mildly disabled (and non-disabled) who will benefit. I don’t have any ‘disabilities’ but I do know that some sites are easier to read than others, by virtue of their simplicity.

(Amazon, on the other hand, is really hard to look at — I agree with a previous commenter who used them as an example of why accessibility is hard to judge :-)

Thanks also for links to those two tools — it’ll make it much easier to do a quick accessibility check for future sites.


Great article! I think this is something more designers and programmers should be conscious about. A huge portion of the disabled population already feels stigmatized IRL, and to alienate them online as well seems to be a horrible misstep. Keep up the great work!

Simon Dell

May I say something about your first “excuse” – “PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES DON’T REALLY USE THE WEB”. Not only is “disability” a grey area (as you very clearly describe), the assertion is also untrue.

Anecdotally: I’m registered partially-sighted – I use the web every day to learn, communicate and shop. My partner is deaf; she uses the web for more tasks, and more often than I do. I’m certain we are not alone in finding a degree of liberation and empowerment through online resources. The web is incredibly EN-abling, when used well and when the tools it provides are well thought through.

You touch on this point with your 3rd excuse – that making sites and apps more accessible can increase revenue. This is the proof of my point: disabled people can, do and want to use the internet.

(Why is a partially sighted person reading 24 Ways? I’m also a front-end developer and I spent several years championing accessibility.)

Arve Systad

For those thinking money and business: I am willing to argue that accessibility doesn’t necessarily cost a lot up front either, as long as it’s an integral part of the process from day one. And the people involved has to understand the need for it.

In its very essence, typing the stylesheet code for large, high contrast text (accessible, usable) doesn’t take more time than typing the stylesheet code for small, low contrast text (inaccessible, unusable).

Yes, a bit (extremely) simplified, but it can indeed be applied to something like 90% of the typical “extra accessibility costs” some people talk about in projects.

Great article nonetheless!


It is always great to see articles about the importance of accessibility, but I do worry about the focus on the tools to check.

WAVE has some good things about it, but if you measure accessibility by tools like this, then you are really missing the importance of testing with real people, and ensuring their needs are met.

Whitney Quesenbery’s book is wonderful as it shows you how to introduce accessibility requirements into personas, I like it as it doesn’t try to pretend not to, or attach these needs as an aside.

Tools do nothing for empathy, which is a huge factor when it comes to building sites for people with various impairments. It also (to me) sends out the wrong message. We should build sites with disability in mind as we build them, and not just test at the end.


It’s a good article, but accessibility is not just for people with disabilities. It’s for searchengines as well, it’s about quality of code and it’s helping userfriendlyness. It’s about making a site that works on all devices, in every browser, futureproof and easy to maintain.

I find that by focusing just on the disabled you’re not selling this ‘accessibility-thing’ to the non-believers.


I just wanted to say a huge thank you Laura for this great article, and all the work you are doing to make people understand that accessibility needs to be part of the design process as well. It’s a really long fight and we really need people like you. Cheers :)

Jon Atkinson

I enjoyed the article, but I thought the examples cited under ““We don’t have the budget for accessibility” are quite a stretch.

The whitepaper cited is from 2006 (which I think everyone can agree is a LONG time in internet years), and you’ve only cited a single source document. In 2006, the SEO landscape was vastly different. The majority of these improvements came at a time when Google’s algorithm looked favourably upon well structured semantic markup.

Accessibility and well structured code go hand in hand, but in these example the business case would have come exclusively from SEO benefits, not from any pro-accessibility stance within those organisations.

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