I’ve long had an interest in the impact of search results on learning. In our search-driven information world, the results for a search can have a significant impact on what people will learn. To that end, I did a search on “accessible web design,” to find out what the most available resources on the subject are right now. Today, I’m going to go through the first 10 search results of the moment with an eye to see just what Google thinks the most important and relevant results are for that search.

Why is this important? Simply because the route for learning about accessible web design is likely to begin with a search. The resources that turn up will guide the way people new to web accessibility shape their work.

Because Google’s personalized results can make this tricky, I did two independent searches — one in Chrome, where I was currenty logged into my own Google account — and one on Opera, with a freshly deleted browser history and with the parameter ‘pws=0’ appended to the search, to disable personalized search.

The results were almost identical; just a minor reordering which was very clearly influenced by my own browsing habits. This listing reflects the order of items in my Chrome search, with the position of the item in the Opera search in parentheses. These searches were performed on September 16th, 2012. Although the degree of change over 4 years suggests there won’t be a lot of change if you’re seeing this next week, it is nevertheless just a snapshot.

I also did this exact same search in 2008 — 4 years ago — so I’m also making notes here as to how this has changed over the last 4 years.

#1 (#1) Resources on Accessible Web Design
This is a great list of specific resources on building accessible web sites. Maintained by Terrill Thompson, who does a lot of great work in accessibility. It’s hard to tell for sure just how up to date the resources are, but I did verify that there were no broken links, so that’s a good sign. This is a great result for somebody looking for an introduction to accessible web design.
Position in 2008: #1
#2 (#2) World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design
Where the #1 result was a broad set of resources, this document is a concise discussion of what accessible web design is. While brief, it’s a great overview of the issues and basic solutions. It’s also from the same organization as result #1. This is also a great result – better for the rote beginner, in many ways.
Position in 2008: #2
#3 (#3) Accessibility – W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) – World Wide Web Consortium
I’m relieved to see this page showing up in the results. When I ran this check in 2008, the W3C was only represented by this business case document, which even then cited itself as incomplete. The W3C’s own statement on web accessibility is a must for these results.
Position in 2008: Not in first page of results
#4 (#5) GAWDS – The Guild of Accessible Web Designers
I have mixed feelings about the presence of GAWDS in these results. The organization hasn’t been significantly active for some time, and although it’s a great group (and I’m a member), I don’t really feel like it offers a lot in terms of up to date web accessibility information.
Position in 2008: Not in first page of results
#5 (#9) Joe Dolson Accessible Web Design
The first page seems like an improbable location for my own web site. Position 9 is certainly more appropriate than #5, but neither are particularly sane. As much as I like the idea of having my own site appear this high in the results (and suspect that there may be personalization going on here beyond what I can disable), I can’t help but think that this is not an appropriate result for this search.
Position in 2008: #10
#6 (#4) An Introduction to Accessible Web Design
Some good, some bad. The article is good in principle. It does, however, date to 2002 — which means that a significant amount of the article is referencing the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) version 1.0 and the Bobby accessibility testing service — which is long, long gone. This is a great example of an article that could be truly evergreen if it were updated. As it is, it’s kind of 50/50.
Position in 2008: #5
#7 (#6) WebAIM: WebAIM : Web Accessibility for Designers
These results would not be complete without a resource from WebAIM. This specific result is a bit of a surprise, from a content perspective, but I’m sure that the rampant sharing of infographics has given it a significant boost. It’s a good resource — it doesn’t stand on its own easily, since it’s quite cursory, but it gives great information. And unlike most of the other results — it’s actually about design and accessibility, rather than being more focused on development.
Position in 2008: did not appear in top 10
#8 (#7) Web Accessibility – ADA Guidelines for Web Page Design
My immediate reaction on seeing any about.com page in search results is rarely positive, and this article is no exception. It’s filled with positively ancient resources and a few just plain errors. The opening statement is “ADA Guidelines for the web cover aspects of Web accessibility” — giving a definite impression that the Americans with Disabilities Act actually provides guidelines for the web. Even if you’re considering the Section 508 guidelines, you have to observe that Section 508 is an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, not the Americans with Disabilities Act. To be fair, not every resource in the list is actually terrible — but it doesn’t start out well. Not something that would be in my top 10 resources.
Position in 2008: did not appear in top 10
#9 (#8) Basics of Website design for accessibility
This is a bad article. It includes woefully inaccurate information, misconceptions, and ambiguous statements. One of the keystones of the page is an inaccessible Flash-driven accessibility tutorial. Oh, the irony.
Position in 2008: did not appear in top 10
#10 (#10) An Idiot’s Guide to Accessible Website Design
This is neither a particularly good article nor a particularly bad one. It’s vague, includes some misconceptions — but mostly it just isn’t very meaty. You can pick up a few good tips here, but you may also walk away with entirely incorrect perceptions including that WCAG 2.0 “eliminates” the guesswork in accessibility requirements. Sorry – but accessibility doesn’t summarize that neatly.
Position in 2008: did not appear in top 10

Overall Thoughts

The top results are a definite improvement on what they were in 2008. The appearance of the W3C’s main accessibility page is definitely a great addition. Unfortunately, there are also a few truly not-so-great or just inappropriate results. However, the top five or six results (excluding the fact that my web site rises significantly to the top when results are personalized to me) include some great resources — and the very first result can get you even further.

This was, of course, a pretty generic search — it’s about as broad as you can get, and is just one example of search results about web accessibility.