The advent of web standards has created a new breed of self-proclaimed experts. Wielding the W3C online validator tool they attack webmasters, site owners and and anyone without the Xhtml logo in the page footer. However, changing your website to make it pass thorugh the W3C validator does not guarantee accessibility.
Standards has become an easy battelaxe. They are clearly written, define a specific set of rules and are therefore easy to test. However, as you might have noticed from my previous writings, it is not that simple. I have met many webmasters that have complained about the amount of phone calls, e-mails and marketing material they receive from companies that want to make their website accessible. Many of these have just run the website in question through the W3C online validator.
The problem here isn’t about standards. Anyone who can read can make a website follow one or more standards. The problem here is that it is possible to make an inacessible website even if you are following e.g. the Xhtml standard. Making your website pass through the W3C validator does not guarantee accessibility.
Many organisations have made the wrong decision to hire standards-fanatics to change their website only to see that accessibility has in fact decreased. Sure, the website passes through the validator, but have you LISTENED to what it sounds like for someone using a screen reader? This is what separates good consultants from bad ones.
A common mistake is to blindly follow the advice of these consultants and spend the entire budget on technology changes to comply with the W3C validator. Did you know that just by working with content you can easily improve accessibility on your own? In fact, sometimes your dollars are better spent on something else than blindly following standards.
Have you been caught up in a discussion about details in semantics? Maybe a standards expert advised you to change your html for some obscure element. Please beware that there are a lot of elements that not yet are interpreted by any browsing device. This means you are designing for nobody. Your standards expert will tell you that those devices will come in the near future. At that point it is likely that you have a completely different web site published through a new content management system. Thus, you have made an effort in vain.
Do you want more? Mike Davidson has an interesting discussion on this heated topic.