Overly Accessible?

I was invited to give a presentation on web accessibility for a university Business Information Systems class last week. During the presentation a student asked a fantastic question – “Is it possible for a web page to be overly accessible?”

I’ve been working in the accessibility field for a very long time, but had never been asked or really considered this. I had to pause and consider this question before responding. I later decided to pose this same question on Twitter. Some people responded “yes” and others “no” to this question, but I noticed a particular theme in the disparate responses.

“Yes” responses

Here’s a sampling of responses indicating that pages can be overly accessible.

“No” responses

Here are some of the responses that indicated that a page cannot be overly accessible:

What is “accessibility”?

The differences in these responses highlights an important distinction about how we view and represent the concept of accessibility. The “yes” respondents viewed accessibility as the process, techniques, and code aspects of what we build online. These can clearly can be overdone, thus making a page “overly accessible”.

The “no” respondents viewed accessibility as an equivalent end user experience. A page cannot be “overly equivalent”.

Both parties are correct. Accessibility is both a process and a philosophy. While our goal is “accessibility” (equivalence for end users), we do this by implementing “accessibility” (techniques and code). For those of us in the accessibility field, I think it’s important to consider these different meanings and to be careful with how we present them.

And that is why this question from the student caused me to pause and really consider my response, which was essentially “Yes, if you think of accessibility as code practices and techniques, then these can be overdone resulting in a less than optimal end user experience. But if you think of accessibility as being that end user experience, then no, you can’t make a site overly accessible because those accessibility improvements would inherently benefit everyone.”

Comments

  1. Raghavendra Sattish Peri

    Very interesting post, I am one of those who think web pages can be made over accessible by providing lot of hidden text, heading tags, landmarks & skip links. But I am also seeing why others think accessibility is equality & providing these kinds of A11Y enhancements really help the users. In my view over accessibility fails usability & not accessibility.

  2. Patrick H. Lauke

    That takes me back over ten years…Too much accessibility – good intentions, badly implemented (in a much simpler time before all the ARIA shenanigans)

  3. Biljana

    This is very good question and I asked myself the same thing. I participated in one workshop, were they show us the use of the reader in real time stations. And one of example were link with image. Link had the title and image ALT. Both very well explained. But the reader read it two times and the person using the site said it is too much. The same thing happen with with role=”main”.
    So do we talk here about too much accessible or work not done good ?

  4. Bruce

    If the end result of developer accessibility efforts is content that is too complex for easy understanding by someone using assistive technology, then it fails the “Understandable” principle (in POUR) of accessibility. If that is not the case, such coding/efforts can a usability issue. This reminds me of the situation where a complex table can meet technical accessibility criteria yet be functionally inaccessible due to the complexity.

  5. Jesse Beach

    I’m so glad the accessibility conversation is shifting to issues of UX and design rather than mechanics. This is good!

  6. Priya

    Good post. I second @Jesse Beach’s comment.

    WCAG/508 guidelines should be used to build accessible websites that provide better user experience to everyone rather than trying to comply with the guidelines.

    Thanks for the link to your post @Patrick H. Lauke. It was informative.

  7. Abe

    Great points. There were some interesting comments to the post about Screen Reader User Survey #7 that hit some similar themes. Comments about the use of ARIA were interesting (but, they almost always are).

  8. Miah

    I do think that when tags and other hidden information regarding the formatting are “read” along with the text of a page, it can interfere with one’s overall comprehension of the textual content. Personally I think that descriptive information and tables, pictures, etc, might be more helpful if they are described separate from the actual text content instead of along with the text.

  9. Erik

    A more helpful definition of “accessible” may be “equivalent usability for all users”, in which case it is not possible to have too much. I think it’s fair to think of an experience marked by over-sharing/explaining as non-accessible, since it is still overwhelming and hard to navigate.