Loren Baker recently published an article by Mikhail Tuknov entitled Benefits of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) in Search Engine Optimization. It’s a basic article describing the potential benefits of cascading style sheets in regards to SEO, maintenance, etc. General purpose CSS advocacy. In general, if you aren’t convinced that CSS is worth using, it’s probably worth reading – however, it does emphasize one fallacy which is, personally, a pet peeve.

CSS makes your website more accessible. […] By separating style from markup, webmasters can simplify and clean up the HTML (HyperText Markup Language) in their documents, making the documents more accessible.

Mikhail Tuknov

No, it doesn’t. Cascading style sheets are a design methodology: they mean that you are separating the design of your site from the structure of your site. This can unquestionably have benefits for website accessibility, but it most certainly does not mean that your site is now accessible. Like any method, CSS can be used equally to create a high quality, standards-based website which is very accesible or a piss-poor website which is unusuable by anybody with less than perfect vision and an innate understanding of Urdu.

The separation of style from markup alone is not sufficient to be able to claim any level of accessibility at all. Use of CSS does not entitle you to claiming any form of accessibility. Semantic markup does not grant accessibility. Website accessibility is a combination of factors including semantic and valid HTML or XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language - HTML reformulated as XML (eXtensible Markup Language)), valid CSS, and conscientious attention to code order, positioning methods, keyboard accessibility, correct application of labels, sensitivity to color contrasts and uses and authorship of texts which do not require sight, color vision or any specialized knowledge to understand. This is no full spectrum description of accessibility – merely a light brush along the surface. To make the claim that “CSS makes your website more accessible” is such a gross simplification of the reality that it rather gets under my skin.

I feel like it’s a common misperception that learning how to program valid websites and use CSS are the main needs in learning to create accessible designs. Actually, the most important thing is to learn how people with disabilities or alternate access devices actually use the internet. Learning about disability is the most important first step, so you can comprehend the difficulties that need to be surmounted. Valid code and CSS are a path in that direction, because they make translation by multiple user agents easier – they are not, however, inherently accessible.