Answers to common (web) accessibility questions

Inspired by Chris Coyier' Answers to common (web) design questions, which was inspired by Dan Mall's earlier post, here's list of common accessibility questions.

Should I use links or buttons?


Links if it takes the user somewhere, buttons if it performs an action. Also buttons if the action is submitting a form (even if the user is then taken somewhere). Trying to avoid nuance in this post, but here's some nuance around buttons and links.

Do we have users with disabilities?


It's unlikely you know every single one of your users and exactly how they use the web. It's even more unlikely that the the group and the people within it stays exactly the same forever.

What's an accessibility conformance audit?

Someone will find out for every of the 56 Success Criteria in WCAG whether your site meets it or not (counting version 2.2, Level A + AA). Ideally, they also explain what the issues are and how to fix them (so that you can do it). This is also called a conformance evaluation.

Who should “do” accessibility in our team?

Everyone. Content folks, developers, designers and product managers all have accessibility tasks to do.

What are some quick tests I can do?

Use your UI with Tab / Shift Tab on a keyboard (check settings if on a Mac), can you reach everything without a mouse? Does the order make sense?

Click on labels for form fields, they should focus the field they are a label of.

Check if your videos and audio (podcasts?) have captions / transcripts.

Is accessibility ever done?

No. It's a continuous process, even if your audit says you meet all Success Criteria today, it's common to stop meeting it. Websites change. You'll want to continuously monitor accessibility, just like with security and privacy.

Do we have legal obligations to make our products accessible?

Very likely. Also if you're not government (for instance, see European Accessibility Act).

There are policies and laws all around the world.

Is it all my website's fault?

No, some problems can be solved by browsers, assistive technologies and/or authoring tools.

WCAG 3.0 will be released soon, right?

Not likely. The goals are good and I've long supported them (still do), but it will be many years for this to be a real thing, WCAG 3.0 is still in a very early phase. The colour algorithm that's being considered for it is interesting to already try and meet as it better meets user needs than current WCAG algo.

Will “AI” improve accessibility?

Machine learning can be a great tool for automating part of the captioning process in lots of languages, and various other things.

But it's unlikely LLMs, often called “AI”, will output accessible code. To train such an LLM, an enormous set of very accessible code would need to exist (it doesn't). Component-building and accessibility semantics also require intentionality, which these systems specifically aren't good at.

Is the Axe / Page Insights score all that matters? Or the WCAG audit result?

No. Any system that scores your site and returns some number (including WCAG audits) does not fully describe your accessibility situation. Accessibility is, ultimately, about people and whether they can use your site. It's about recognising, then removing barriers. Metrics can help in various ways, but they are not the end goal. And the most easily measureable is not necessarily the most impactful.

More detailed accessibility posts can be found elsewhere on this blog.

List of updates
  • 4 November 2023: Changed ‘56’ to ‘55’ in the amount of WCAG 2.2 success criteria in Level A + AA, as most people seem to not count the deprecated (yet listed (with zero SC text)) 4.1.1 (yes I'm a pedant why 😅). Thanks Joost, Eric, Alastair and others.

Comments, likes & shares (63)

@hdv Thoughts on links styled as buttons and buttons styled as links? I personally feel like button styling is for block-level actionable content and link styling is for inline actionable content so it’s OK to mix metaphors as long as it’s clear the content is actionable and what the action might do. But I know people have strong opinions on this and I’m curious to know more.
@scott design system I'm currently involved in allows for it and I think it's ok, there are good UI reasons to want this.Long discussion I recently read on it (incl suggestion to add role=button to a link whenever it looks like a button and to add button keyboard affordances too) Remove button role from start link by colinrotherham · Pull Request #272 · alphagov/govuk_elements
@hdv @scott This is something I'm curious about too! I use a common "CTA" style for both buttons and (some) links, with the key difference that links have underlined text and buttons don't. Feels more like me checking off a box of my "good enough" list, though. ????
@chriskirknielsen @hdv @scott I used to be really opinionated on this, but am more relaxed now. I surmised a tiny bit a few months back when I added some action button links to my weblog: Apple Annie’s Weblog · Action Buttons Link Style
@chriskirknielsen @hdv @scott Nothing ground-breaking in my thoughts, it's just good to know others are thinking and writing about it too. When I was the only front-end dev on a project and I'd bring this up to back-end devs I'd sometimes get collective eye-rolls. And a lot of times I'd find it came straight from the designers not realizing there is a semantic difference.