Don’t Provide an Accessibility Statement

When I surf the web I see more and more sites providing an accessibility statement. Googling for “accessibility statement” returns over twelve million pages. What do these statements contain? Why would you want one? Who reads them? This article will try to make two points: 1. accessibility statements are often pointless and 2. you are better off with a “site help” if you think your target audience need it.

A recent study by Digital Media Access Group, Evaluating the Usability of Online Accessibility Information, came to the conclusion that accessibility statements often are difficult to comprehend for users. In fact, naming them “Accessibility statement” meant that many users did not look at them at all. This, of course, isn’t strange. The meaning of the word “accessibility” isn’t clear to everyone.

The Current State of Statements

Looking through some of the accessiblity statements you find on the web I can’t help noticing the amount of technical jargon. Many of them contain information about the accessibility testing procedures used when building the website. Why would a user want to know about that? My guess is that companies are trying to promote the image of themselves as being good net citizens. Looking through some of the pages returned from the Google search reveals some similarities. Sample fragments:

  • “All pages on this site are Bobby AAA approved.”
  • “WCAG AAA approved.”
  • “Valid HTML 4.01 Strict”

For the average user this means absolutely nothing. A page filled with technical jargon is likely to be skipped by many users. These types of accesibility statements are pointless.

Providing a site help instead

The report Evaluating the Usability of Online Accessibility Information shows that a “site help” is much more efficient compared to an “accessibility statement” provided you don’t fill it with technical crap. This, of course, is nothing new.

As with all other information you should start by defining your target audience. Depending on your audience and the functionality of your site you may come to the conclusion that there is no need for even a site help. If you know your target audience you can establish a baseline of technical knowledge. This baseline will aid you in making decisions on what should go into the site help.

This blog, for example, assumes that the reader knows that underlined text can be clicked and how to use the search field, hence the lack of an accessibility statement.

So, get rid of your “Accessibility statement” today and provide some useful information instead. Different opinion? Post your comments below.

Comments

  1. Siegfried says at 2006-10-23 10:10:

    I don’t think these statements are simply pointless. O.k., they are of nearly no use for the average website visitor. These statements are more of the kind of the Firefox “spread the word” badgets/campaing/logos. It is some sort of “political statement” by the web author, basically not addressed to common visitors but to other web designers. It is saying something like “we do invest effords in web page quality (correct markup, accessibility, …). We are professionals”. So since any serious web designer wants to be professional the hope is that this encourages others to join in these effords.

    I think that is the real point behind these statements.

  2. Rosie Sherry says at 2006-10-23 10:10:

    Excellent. Someone who shares my opinion on web accessibility statements. I recently wrote a blog post on the issue:
    Poll: web accessibility statements.

    What annoys me the most at the moment is how web accessibility is sold. Anyone who is in the business of creating web applications, can no longer call them self a web designer/developer/etc. They are now “accessible designers”, “accessible programmers”. It’s all a bit of a gimmick. It’s a bit like the agile movement at the moment. Everyone is calling themselves agile even if they are not. Pah!

    I say bin “accessibility statements” and get the silly 12 million google results down to one million.

  3. Peter Krantz says at 2006-10-23 20:10:

    Siegfried: So you think thattwleve million web pages is part of some sort of orchestrated communcation between web developers? I am sorry, but I don’t believe that. If you are a web developer and know what HTML 4.01 Strict is I think you are likely to know about the basics of accessibility as well. In this case the web site owner is stating the obvious and is wasting communcation space.

    Let’s hope that twelve million accessibility statements doesn’t equal a lack of twelve million useful help pages. I find it more likely that these web sites are paying lip service to an ongoing fad. (…And before you bash me for calling accessibility an “ongoing fad”, please note that my vision for the future is that accessibility will go from being a “cool thing” to being a natural part of all development efforts.)

  4. Sigmar says at 2006-10-24 09:10:

    I don’t think accessibility statements are pointless. Their texts should be clearer, there should be something more than just “we comply with AAA level”, ok, but in my opinion they at least two reasons to provide such a statement:
    1) They are the only way to show users some accessibility features (access keys…).
    2) I see them as a way of increasing awareness in website accessibility. I think many people don’t realize about it, but there are many more developers who don’t know about accessibility, W3C or standards than those who know and use them.

  5. Sigmar says at 2006-10-24 09:10:

    In my last comment I wanted to say “…there are at least two reasons…”, sorry.

  6. nortypig says at 2006-10-25 09:10:

    I’d hope accessibility statements were akin to company policy documents and disclaimers which I also don’t read but would hope sensible companies include in their web solutions. Terms of service, for example, are handy once in a blue moon but they are handy.

    Similarly I wouldn’t disclaim the accessibility statement idea. It depends on whether they are dejargonised for normal consumption or jargonised as a page to encourage and incite other developers to actually become aware accessible practices exist. Maybe a site made well is in fact tooting its own horn a bit, but so what. I mean if all 12 million pages never mentioned they were accessible then who would know accessible sites exist. Chicken and egg a bit in my opinion.

    While I do agree that the average user doesn’t give a shonk about them (or about pages by the way if you might recall the last about page you read on a big company site – anyone read Amazon’s for example, or the local cafe’s about page)… I do think they all have their place. By the bar that the average user cares we may as well strip off RSS feeds because so many people just use the web for email and don’t want to hear jargon – I’m thinking of several of my clients to date.

    I would hope as well on some accessibility pages at least there is some instructive material such as telling users – if they dare go there – that text can be scaled by using the mouse wheel or what exactly those god forbidden access keys I dislike actually are… if it were an e-commerce site which could be used by certain versions of screen reader I think that would be a good thing to mention (as well as on the shopping page) unless all users are expected to find these things out by trial and error.

    Anyway its an interesting statement even if I’m not 100% sold on your idea. I think I’ll still recommend they be included for the time being although its widely known I’m not always right about things. We’ll agree to disagree then Peter, cheers mate. Worthy discussion.

  7. Peter Krantz says at 2006-10-25 10:10:

    nortypig: But if we dejargonize them and make them readable for the average user they will become a “site help” rather than an accessibility statement! And why call them “accessibility statement” if we want users to read them? The study showed that users are more likely to read a “site help”.

    If it were an e-commerce site which could be used by certain versions of screen reader I think that would be a good thing to mention

    I would say that it doesn’t work that way. And if you try to do it that way you are doing the wrong thing.

  8. LS says at 2006-10-25 12:10:

    I think one of the factors to be considered is how far down the accessibility statement paths we’ve already gone. PAS 78 specifically references them and essentially states that it’s good practice to have one. Whilst I agree the terminology isn’t necessarily appealing, it is a standard term that is used in both PAS 78 and the UK Government Guidelines. So is consistent terminology more important than intuitive terminology?

    On the other hand I question the value of the DMAG report as it specifically looks at people who currently are unlikely to need to use the accessibility features of a site (ok, so they might in the future, but then lets see how they research the issue that they’re facing). Ask people who are currently using assistive technologies whether they find accessibility policies useful – surely that would be a better indication?

  9. nortypig says at 2006-10-25 23:10:

    Yes I do agree there is a strong case for dejargonizing and site help is an option. Perhaps they aren’t necessarily exactly the same thing though, what if the accessibility statement were in fact that – an organisational policy statement much like the terms and conditions or legal disclaimer statements – and a site help or site tips (not quite site help) which could tell users fonts can be scaled.

    I’d guess though that regardless of what terminology is used users probably won’t give a toss either way about that content. They are on the site to fulfil functions like pay a bill, read your latest post, or enrol in a seminar. If I was doing one of those things I don’t think site help would grab me either.

    One thing that does get me about accessibility statements while we’re on the subject – how come people are so protective of them? I mean the number of times I’ve seen chip spitting over their page being stolen in part or whole… I mean it is what it is right. There’s plagiarism and accessibility statements lol.

    I also don’t visit about pages ever but every client wants one (preferrably as the first link me laughs)…

    It is sad that experience says people need to discover themselves that an ecommerce site can be used on versions of Jaws for example – with developers truely believing they should not put up any signifier to say this is possible. To say I am outright wrong to put that information on the site is indicating that discovery is the only mechanism available to web users. I’d say yes most people won’t read the page but for anyone interested what’s the harm? Honestly? I mean its not like producing that page is going to cause anyone extra grief, maybe its redundant information but its still available if needed by someone or if someone is interested. I’d refer back to the terms and conditions pages and about pages examples.

    I wonder how more likely to read site help actually translates to will read site help… and further the question would be why would someone go to a site help page as a functional unit? It could even be that bad design like confusing navigation means someone is lost so they are more likely to go to site help than an accessibility statement. Perhaps. I’m not sure its as black and white as one or the other. Now I’m wondering if a site help page is necessary lol… It might be interesting to see the results of some examples in the wild and investigate why site help is used. I kind of see site help and accessibility statements as two directions kind of related but not exactly the same.

    I’m not sure there is a definitively right or wrong answer on this one though Peter. In the end we’re going to have to play it by ear and see how ideas like yours pan out over time. Meanwhile dejargonizing is a good first step for anyone considering making them I guess.

    Sorry for the long comments I’ve probably got over conversational on this one. :)

  10. Peter Krantz says at 2006-10-26 22:10:

    Sigmar:

    They are the only way to show users some accessibility features (access keys)

    Ah, but everyone benefits from accessibility features like e.g. font resizing, right? Why hide it under cryptic terminology?

    As for your second argument, I don’t think most site owners do it to raise awareness. In the blogosphere, maybe. But not in the corporate world.

    Nortypig:

    Thank you for starting an interesting discussion! I feel you are gradually accepting my point of view? I may be a poor writer, but I think the arguments you put forward support my position?

    What is the point of telling a vision impaired user that he can use the site with Jaws? What do you expect that user to do if there isn’t an accessibility statement? My guess is that they would still use the website. Would they be able to use it in a different way after reading the accessibility statement? Not likely in my opinion.

    LS:

    You asked: “Is consistent terminology more important than intuitive terminology?”. Interesting question. Consistent terminology is a way to make it easier for users to find the same thing in different websites. But, I am not sure that it is more important than intuitive terminology. If the UK Government guidelines specifically require an “Accessibility statement” I would be interested if they tested this choice with real users before they implemented it as a guideline. If not, I think it is a mistake.

  11. LS says at 2006-10-27 14:10:

    Peter, I won’t go as far as to say the UK gov standards are a mistake – I’m not in a position to comment – but I understand that you could definitely question it. However if we take the good old example of “home” as it’s used on websites (and I know it’s an extreme case) it evolved rapidly as a standard with virtually 100% adoption in English speaking countries, to such an extent that many people who are new to using the web have difficulty differentiating between “homepage” and “website”.

    Now I’d question how intuitive a term it is – if you’d never heard of the internet before and the first page you saw said “home” on it, what would you think? Certainly once you found out what it was, you’d remember it and be able to take that knowledge forward as you use other sites – hence I’m inclined to think that consistency is more important than intuition.

    But I think the real issue is actually that we try to achieve two quite different purposes with and accessibility statement. the first is that we try to explain what is on the surface invisible in a site – how it’s marked up, skip links, access keys and the like. This, I think is what an accessibility statement should be. However the second purpose that people try to cover is to help people understand that there are features in their browsers that they may not be aware of, or that there are assistive technologies out there that they could use. Whilst this second purpose is commendable, I can’t help but think its a fairly ineffective way to help people, because few organisations have the resources to do it well, and it’s redundant for the people who already know that but want to find out more about what is specific to that site.

    In an ideal world (which I’m aware isn’t going to happen) I’d like to see one site where accessibility features of browsers and assistive technologies are all explained clearly and simply and kept up to date. I would also include a description of an accessibility statement and where to find one. The closest I can find at the moment is the BBC’s my web, my way. Then all accessibility statements could link there, and be used for what they provide the most value in – relating specifically to the site they are located on. You would also get the advantage of one place as a starting point which would hopefully become more well known than lots of individual accessibility statements.

  12. Siegfried says at 2006-10-30 11:10:

    Hi,
    well, first, help pages and accessibility statements are two totally different things, addressed to a very different auditory. So placing accessibility statements has nothing to do with help pages. It does neither mean that there is no necessity for help pages nor do help pages mean that accessibility statements are bad. Both aspects are totally different.
    O.k., it is possible to place the w3c AAA button on a page without ever having undrestood accessibility. Lying is just human. But that’s another point.

    Knowing html4.x strict and making a page validate against that does not mean that this page is accessible. Valid markup is just a necessary base for accessibility. So these two points are related, but not identical. Knowing html4.x does not imply knowing accessibility. Knowing accessibility on the other hand implies knowing html4.x strict (and maybe xhtml).

    Placing accessibility statements just say that the author cares. And since the author states “I do care”, this is somewhat like asking others to care, too. Just that, nothing more. But at least, this point may still be of use.

    I do not have these statements on my pages, but in the past i did.

  13. Peter Krantz says at 2006-10-30 14:10:

    Siegfried,

    Well, first, help pages and accessibility statements are two totally different things, addressed to a very different auditory. So placing accessibility statements has nothing to do with help pages.

    Ah, this is where I disagree. Would you inform users about text resizing in the accessibility statement page or the site help page? If you choose the accessibility statement page I would like to know why other users can’t have that information.

    Placing accessibility statements just say that the author care.

    Most statements describe features that will help you navigate the site/application. This is of use to all visitors, but is effectively hidden when you call it “accessibility statement” (as the study show).

    There are other things that authors could “care” about. Why don’t corporations have an “abolish child labor” statement?

  14. Dave says at 2006-11-01 17:11:

    I agree in principle with Krantz’s argument that too many accessibility statements are filled with useless information.

    However, there are excellent examples of how these pages can be done correctly, such as how Michigan State University does it.

    The suggestion of changing the term from “accessibility” to “site help” is an interesting one, and would probably encourage more users to take a look at it. I will consider it in future design/development work I am a part of.

    Thanks, Peter

  15. adam says at 2006-11-02 18:11:

    I would love to see some examples of well executed “Site Help” pages, anyone have any?

  16. Xavez says at 2006-11-04 17:11:

    You have a point there, Peter, but I think you’re seeing it too much black/white and not enough shades of grey. Is it impossible to provide both an accasibility statement that everyone recognises and a good site-help? Things like:

    • All pages on this site are Bobby AAA approved.
    • WCAG AAA approved.
    • Valid HTML 4.01 Strict

    have become more of a brand, indeed, but is that a necessarily a bad thing? Personally I think not: we need some kind of label to make a difference. Labels give people the idea that it was “applied to” the site by a higher authority (e.g. w3c validation), even if they don’t understand the contents, it must be a good thing. And it is a good thing :).

  17. Paul Milne says at 2006-11-16 11:11:

    If an accessibility statement has any use at all, it should be to help a user with disabilities, most likely using some sort of assistive technology, to use the site.

    To that end, the user should be able to assume that their browser will “just work” like the rest of us. An accessiblity statement’s greatest usefulness is to spell out where their browser might NOT just work.

    “This site uses Javascript in order to do blah blah blah. If you do not have Javascript enabled, this will happen.”

    “This site reloads pages when you fill in a form field, with no indication that the page has reloaded.”

    “Help pages in this web site always open in new windows.”

    The other use might be to explain the navigation and page elements to those, particularly visually disabled, users who might need a bit of help.

    “This site has two menus: the first menu has contact, site map, etc., the second menu has Help, news, etc.”

    “The navagation menu on this site changes depending on which area of the site you are in. Make sure to check the navigation menu to see what area-specific options are available.”

    You could put any information about specifications etc. into a separate “Site Specifications” page for those who like such things.

  18. Mike Elledge says at 2006-12-01 18:12:

    My two cents: there is no reason why there shouldn’t be both a site map and an accessibility page on a site. They have different intentions. The problem with most accessibility pages is that they are rarely written for the people who need them, i.e., persons using adaptive technology. They can be helpful, if they include information about accesskeys, the presence of headings, skip links and the like, which tell persons using adaptive technology how to navigate through a site more easily.

    I think the key is to create greater awareness about how to design effective and meaningful accessibility pages, so they become useful components of websites, rather than puffery. So, I take my hat off to all of you concerned about this issue. Spread the word!

  19. Michael Hart says at 2007-03-12 02:03:

    I’m a BLIND systems programmer and my work includes web development.

    As a user of adaptive technology, I don’t tend to go looking for these statements and most of us are aware of the accepted conventions for navigational assistance.

    However, new user’s will learn something from help/navigational information as will everyone else, so this should be provided, assumeing it is not redundant. Indeed I feel this information should be part of the more general “about our website” pages as opposed to the “accessibility” pages.

    I’ve seen the accessibility statement used to do everything but help users with disabilities, yes most of the information that should be here can just as correctly be put into the “about our website” pages but some things can’t, most notably the list of known accessibility issues and related helpful information as such things would unbalance the help pages.

    Websites should now be designed and implemented with the WCAG in mind, so including a statement of compliance is redundant information. Indeed this type of statement is of no practical benefit to anyone, unless work is underway on a legacy system (in which case this is helpfull).

    However this information does show commitment to good practises, so I don’t feel it’s a bad thing to have unless the statement is wrong.

  20. PGT says at 2008-04-14 02:04:

    So, is this a bad thing? http://home.earthlink.net/~patrickgtracy/accessibility.html

    I have seen precious few examples here of Accessibility Statements and why they might be good or bad.

  21. شات صوتي says at 2012-01-22 05:01:

    precious few examples here of Accessibility Statements and why they might be good

  22. web 2.0 sites for seo says at 2014-06-13 11:06:

    Every weekend i used to visit this website, for
    the reason that i want enjoyment, for the reason that this this website conations in fact fastidious funny data too.

  23. wedding photographer says at 2014-06-16 03:06:

    Excellent blog here! Also your web site loads up
    very fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?

    I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

  24. http://mitchehadley.wordpress.com says at 2014-06-16 13:06:

    A watch dogs serial generator survey conducted for both the original source of entertainment which are usually knows for
    certain what happened.

  25. wedding digital photographer says at 2014-06-17 14:06:

    Hi there, I log on to your new stuff like every week.

    Your writing style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing!

  26. en.gravatar.com says at 2014-06-23 17:06:

    Hey there this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use
    WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.

    I’m strting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice
    from someone with experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  27. Maxine says at 2014-07-09 18:07:

    Great goods from you, man. I’ve be mindful your stuff previous to and you’re just too excellent.
    I really like what you’ve bought here, certainly like what
    you’re saying and the way in which during which you say it.
    You are making it entertaining and you still care
    for to stay it sensible. I cant wait to learn far more from you.
    That is actually a great site.

Trackbacks

Leave a comment

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Peter Krantz, peter.krantz@giraffe.gmail.com (remove giraffe).