Web accessibility is a hot topic and it's here to stay — but with so many organizations learning and implementing its guiding principles and best practices, who actually gets to decide whether or not a website is accessible?
DOES THE DEVELOPER DECIDE IF A WEBSITE IS ACCESSIBLE?
Developers play an important role in achieving web accessibility. After all, it's their code that impacts everything, so there's little doubt that when developers are trained in how to create accessible websites everything will run more smoothly.
However, it is not the developer who decides if a website is accessible. It is true that some developers may have more accessibility expertise and some may be assistive technology users themselves, but ultimate determination of website accessibility doesn't fall on the developer alone.
DOES AUTOMATED TESTING DECIDE IF A WEBSITE IS ACCESSIBLE?
Automated testing has made it possible to scan large amounts of material quickly and generate reports on accessibility violations. It's fast and sophisticated, and it should be part of a well-rounded accessibility testing strategy.
However, automated testing is not enough to demonstrate accessibility compliance. Organizations who rely on automated testing alone put themselves at risk — these scans can both miss many significant issues and detect issues that have no impact on the actual accessibility of a website. Absolutely use automated tests in your larger plan, but no, automated testing cannot decide if a website is accessible.
To learn more on this, read:
- Is Automated Testing Enough for Accessibility Compliance?
- Use Caution with Automated Tools That Promise 100% Accessibility Compliance
DOES THE HUMAN TESTER DECIDE IF A WEBSITE IS ACCESSIBLE?
Accessibility subject matter experts (SMEs) who manually test websites have the knowledge to identify accessibility issues on web pages and within custom use cases. They can also recommend thoughtful and specific remediation methods for bringing content into accessibility compliance. Depending on how their role fits into the organization, accessibility SMEs may very well be the ones making the decisions about how accessible a website is and whether it is acceptable to publish.
However, as vital as they are to the process, as important as their knowledge and expertise are to guiding others toward accessibility, even accessibility SMEs do not get to truly decide if a website is accessible.
DOES THE INDIVIDUAL USING IT DECIDE IF A WEBSITE IS ACCESSIBLE?
Something is accessible when people can use it and only when people can use it. At the end of the day, a developer's belief that a website is accessible doesn't help the person who is finding out they can't do what they came to do, just as an accessibility report showing everything has passed matters little to the person who faces an accessibility barrier right now.
So it is the customer visiting your website that decides if it is accessible. The fact is that while every reasonable effort should be made to achieve accessibility compliance, there will come a time when someone is unable to read or do or use something.
One way that we solve for this is by providing our clients live 24/7 accessibility support for their website visitors.