Why Have Web Designers and Developers Stopped Caring About Accessibility?

A card reading No Entry

Imagine standing outside a shop and watching people enter and exit the shop. You want something inside the shop but you can’t get through the door. You could always ask someone to get it for you but you:

  1. Don’t want to bother other people,
  2. Want to browse the items in the shop yourself.

This is what it is like for people with some disabilities visiting an inaccessible website.

One in five Australians have disabilities so why are web designers and developers no longer designing accessible websites? In 1999 the Sydney Olympic Website became infamous as the world first site to have a successful lawsuit brought against it because of a lack of accessibility (read more about the inaccessible Sydney Olympic Website). In the early part of this century, many web developers were pushing for web standards and website accessibility.  I am not seeing the same sort of discussions anymore. Have we forgotten to make our sites accessible?

There is a wide range of disabilities that create barriers for accessing the internet and it is up to web designers and developers to cater for these disabilities.

Man with physical disability using a tablet

The advent of free content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal mean that people can set themselves up as a web designer/developer without formal qualifications in web design. They often lack knowledge about issues such as website accessibility and usability. They present clients with pretty sites that are not functional and are frighteningly inaccessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility is a legal requirement for any site associated with a government department.

Examples of Accessibility Issues

Many sites do not have meaningful alternative text for images. Including meaningful alternative text is helpful for anyone who cannot see images on the internet. Any writing in picture format is not accessible to people using screen readers and search engines.

Remove title text written in title field and include Alt text written above Alt text fiesta
A screenshot taken from the WordPress Media Library

A common fad with web forms is to omit the labels for input fields and replace it with placeholder text.
an example of a form with placeholder text instead of labels

This is not only a problem for people using a screen reader, it can be a barrier for people with short-term memory issues. As soon as someone starts to type into the field the placeholder text disappears. Read more about Accessible Contact Forms for WordPress.

Links need to be descriptive. One way to navigate a website with a screen reader is to get a list of links on the page. It is of no help if the links say “Read more” or “More”.

A screenshot of links using mac voiceover showing links of more and forwardslash
This is a screenshot of a  links list generated by Mac voiceover. Several of the links are poorly named. They do not tell the user where the link leads to.

These are just some of the bad practices seen in modern web design. People with disabilities struggle with barriers every day in the physical world. Don’t make accessing the content on your website another barrier. Don’t do accessibility because you are worried about a lawsuit. Do it because you care.

Read more about Website Accessibility.

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