Dog and cat

This is a real question asked everyday by Product Owners, Scrum Masters, Business Analysts, Managers Instructors creating course content, and yes, Disability Services Providers. It is a fair question when time and money are both in short supply. However, Accessibility Specialists understand that this question is not necessary when accessibility is included in every step from planning to delivery. Becoming accessibility aware will help every content creator become better at delivering the best quality information.

Walk a mile in the ears of screen reader user before you start a project. Dim your computer screen to 25% and see if you can still read selected text colors against the background. Turn the sound off on the embedded video and see if all the information is still available to those who cannot hear.

Learning accessibility is not a waste of time. It is the road to better education, increased independence and actualized potential. When the ‘least to be accessible’ is chosen above putting accessibility first, everyone has a poor experience.

An example

The following is three student’s experience reading material for a simple assignment using a screen reader. To really understand the impact of accessible content please read each example out loud or better yet have someone else read it to you. Each student hears the same information presented visually in a table but their experience is very different because accessibility was addressed differently.


Memorize the three breeds for each animal:



Siamese Labrador
Persian Poodle
Tabby Chihuahua



  1. Student one hears: “Cats Dogs Siamese Labrador Persian Poodle Tabby Chihuahua”
  2. Student two hears: “Table with four rows and three columns. Column one, row one, Cats. Column two, row two, Dogs. Column one, row two, Siamese. Column two, row three, Labrador. Column one, row three Persian. Column two, row three, Poodle. Column one, row four, Tabby. Column two, row four, Chihuahua.”
  3. Student three hears: “Heading level 2 Cats. List of three items. Siamese, Persian, Tabby. Heading level 2 Dogs. List of three items. Labrador, Poodle, Chihuahua.”

Student one’s experience does not provide sufficient information for the student to succeed without assistance either from another person or by doing additional research. How would the student know that Tabby is a cat? Or is one of the dogs a Tabby Chihuahua?

Student two has to sort through all the extra verbiage of the table structure to come up with the material to memorize the assignment. The structure does not include information about headings so the student must deduce that Dogs is the heading for column two. The added effort to sort out the data from the structure takes time. Student two has actually been given extra work before the assignment can even be started.

Student three has received the necessary information with useful structure in the most concise possible way. This student has the best chance for success and independence. The first table read is a layout table with the attribute role=”presentation” in the opening tag, a minimal and incomplete accessibility remediation practice. The screen reader ignores the table structure. Information in tables is read right to left top to bottom which in this layout is like shuffling the data as a deck of cards.

The second table has been coded as a data table with improper semantic markup. Headings are read as just part of the data because they are missing . The student cannot use the built-in table reading features of the screen reader. The reading order (right to left, top to bottom) does not make sense for this data layout.

The third table has been made fully accessible with the presentation of the information defined using CSS. It looks like a table but is semantically defined in HTML using headings (h1 to h6) and list items (ol and li) to define the list of breeds. Student three can focus on the assignment and is not inadvertently given extra work.

The fully accessible version does not take any extra time to create when accessibility is incorporated throughout the process. Imagine the Instructor developing this lesson having a Learning Management System which allows the selection of accessibility feature where information is added with good structure and then styled with a variety of tools. Imagine a student selecting to view the information in the style that fits their learning needs be it list or table; bright or muted colors; read by a male or female voice.

What is the least we need to do to be accessible? Include accessibility from the start and maintain it through delivery.

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2 comments on “What is the least we need to do to be accessible?

    J. L. Barnes says:

    Great article! A very clear demonstration of why proper tagging and structure make such a difference–and why the effort is minimal when accessibility is included from the get-go!


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