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Does your website accessibility solution use a plugin that can be turned on and off?

Mark Tomkins
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If so, you’ve still got an accessibility problem.

In this article we will address the question of why using a plugin or widget will not meet your website accessibility requirements.

There’s a temptation by all website owners, councils included, to look for the quickest and easiest solution to address the accessibility needs of their website by the 23rd September 2020 deadline. This is often through the use of installing widgets and plugins, usually free or quite low cost.

The problem is that these tools are only addressing the surface problems and do not get to the heart of what website accessibility is about – and importantly, most of them require the user to interact or activate them in some way. By that nature alone, they do not provide a true solution to making the website more accessible.

These plugins and widgets just tackle the surface elements, such as colours, contrast, font sizes – but do not address the navigational and structural requirements of a website for use by those with assistive technology.

One widget or plugin cannot address the requirements needed for a website’s accessibility compliance.

It also completely misses the point.

A website’s accessibility must be native and interact with the user’s browser or assistive technology seamlessly. The accessibility of a website requires making sure there are no barriers in the way for anyone to access the information.

Website accessibility should not be a decision made on cost and ease of implementation but rather a change of mindset by the website administrator. Always refer to first principles of website accessibility:

  • “What do I need to say?”
  • “Why do I need to say it?”
  • “What’s the best way to say it to everyone?”

Websites often become ‘dumping groups’ for documents, files and information. There’s a tendency just to upload each and every file you have to a website, thinking that you’ve met compliance and it’s all there for anyone to see if they want.

However, the mindset needs to change. If you need to add something to a website you must ask yourself those basic questions first. After which, you need to make sure that you can support the item you’re adding in the most accessible way possible, providing easily-reached alternative options for those who cannot use that format.

Ultimately, the best format is to put all the content on the actual web page but there’s also a need to provide access to other format documents that originate from elsewhere. The documents (in most cases PDFs) need to have been made accessible, where possible, before uploading to the website.

(For more detail on the production of accessible PDFs and files I would strongly recommend you sign up to a webinar by Alistair MacNaught on the best practices of producing these documents – this is available through the SLCC.)

In summary, a plugin that essentially floats over the top of a website and claims to provide accessibility tools isn’t addressing the true aims of accessibility. The fact that they can be added after the site has been built without any code changes means that they do not get to the root of basic accessibility needs. Colours, contrast and font sizes are just a small aspect of the overall technical need of a website – Operable and Navigable issues can only be made fully accessible by addressing the code structure. A plugin or widget can never do that because it’s installed over the top of the website and cannot edit the core code.

Fundamentally, if the attitude towards good website accessibility results in choosing a quick and easy plugin or widget that’s free, it’s a sign that the website administrator hasn’t fully understood the core principles of accessibility.

A website system that has been built with accessibility in mind from the ground-up and has been tested by both software tools and actual humans using real assistive technology is really the only solution to meet accessibility needs.

It demonstrates the understanding and commitment to ensuring the website’s content is available natively for everyone, and not prioritising those who can see, use a mouse and keyboard.