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How To Make A € 50.000 Website Crappy With Just One Plugin

The drama of the instant accessibility button

Imagine, you dump people on the North Pole, in their summer suit and slippers. And then you hand them a photo of a campfire, a pair of mittens, a warm cap and a pair of skis without ski poles, telling them “Yeah, I know it’s not complete and all for this hostile environment, but at least it’s something, right?”

That’s actually what you do to an incredibly high number of people when you (or your web developer) installed a plugin that promises to make your website instantly fully accessible.

If you have only vaguely heard of web accessibility: I’m not only referring to the people who depend on assistive technology on the web. I’m also referring to those who – for example – have dyslexia, ADHD (like I do), or are on the autistic spectrum (like a lot of my friends are). And the elderly, and people who, due to their socio-economic circumstances, are on slow internet connections and low-quality smartphones.

For those who never heard of the term web accessibility, there’s a pretty informative compact article on Wikipedia, that starts with a clear summary.

“At least it’s something!”

Such plugins promise to make your site accessible. And worse, some taking a stiff monthly fee from you while they’re at it, promise ADA compliance. Where in fact, they are providing nothing but that disrespectful “at least it’s something”. The intention may be right, however, the execution stinks. accessibility plugins can’t fix what was already broken.

It doesn’t matter how much your website cost to make

Where it comes to accessibility, many sites are broken. That includes many of my own, which are currently undergoing changes to fix that.

Every hour I spend at night on making my own sites accessible, is an hour I don’t get to bill. In existing projects that is an insane amount of work. It means drastic design and content changes in many cases. I can now tell future customers from experience, why it’s much cheaper to create a website with accessibility in mind.

The thing is, once you know your site is hostile towards an enormous group of users, and once you realise what’s at stake, you can’t un-know it.

Good intentions

What’s the worst: so many who install these accessibility plugins, believe they do well. They mean well and have the best intentions! I’m aware of that.

And then there are those who install these plugins because they are (mis)led to believe this will protect them from lawsuits in the US about ADA Compliance. Well, here’s some news for you: they don’t. They can’t save you from shitty code, shitty use of headings, no semantic HTML, cluttered design, etc. Because that’s wherein the problem REALLY lies. If your website wasn’t created with accessibility in mind to begin with, there’s very little such a plugin can do for you, to save you from an ADA lawsuit.

The article I link to below, addresses that. The author updates the content regularly. If you made it all the way down here, my guess is you’ll find this an interesting read: Honor the ADA: Avoid Web Accessibility Quick-Fix Overlays.

P.S. I find it really difficult to smoothly conclude this article, because there is so much more to write about where it comes to online accessibility. Like the debate about who initially carries the responsibility to ensure that the web is accessible. Or why you should never assume that the groups mentioned in this article, aren’t visiting your website. Or why it’s really sad that some graphic designers can’t see the fun in the challenge of designing for accessibility. Which – partially – may have something to do with stick dry documentation about accessibility, which has not been written in an appealing inspiring way for designers.

But see? I’m already digressing, with topics for future articles.