The Accessibility Silver Bullet

January 22, 2007

Topics: Accessibility, Web Development.

Is a myth. Like the werewolf it purportedly slays, it doesn’t exist.

“It’s the silver bullet,” IMRG’s Chief Executive James Roper told Reuters. “Put this little button on your site and suddenly you are legal.”

ITpro.co.uk, Websites must be accessible to disabled, firms told

IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) supports a little piece of software that transforms text into speech. Basically, it’s a screen reader plugin. And it is not, in any way, a “silver bullet” for accessibility. Give me a break.

To be entirely fair, there’s talk that this is a misquote – discussion at Accessify Forum suggests that the article misquoted Mr. Roper and has since been corrected. Regardless, the whole concept of a silver bullet for accessibility is a horrible illusion.

Most importantly, accessibility is not a cleanly definable field. You can’t easily say that a site is “more” accessible than another, at a certain point. One site may have chosen the path of offering site options to allow the user to customize their experience. Another may have elected for spare use of images and a simple structure, but allows the user to use knowledge of their own tools to enhance their experience. Is it necessarily a better or more accessible experience to visit the first site? It depends on implementation, it depends on how complex the options are to implement – and ultimately it’s a subjective question. The whole question lies in the hands of the user.

You don’t get to decide whether you’ve made your website accessible. You get to make decisions about how you will attempt to best serve your audience, and hopefully you’ll make the right decisions – but your users are the only people who will truly be able to tell you whether you’ve succeeded. No plugin will solve your problems. No single technique is the right technique.

If Mr. Roper did make this statement, he did his company a major disservice. Presenting their toolbar as a complete accessibility solution is naive and misrepresentative of the product. It may help some people – but it is NOT a solution to web accessibility.

1 Comment to “The Accessibility Silver Bullet”

  1. I strongly agree with you. Screen-Readers solve only part of the problem but there are many types of disability! As the technology progresses, the need to do more on field increases as well.