Are text-only websites an accessible alternative?

Date Updated

Some website developers imagine that providing a separate text-only website is an easy way to support screen reader users so that they can have an accessible experience without requiring animations, media controls that are typically operated with a mouse, image-based infographics, or frequently updated content that may cause confusion. While this approach may seem logical on the surface, text-only websites are rarely maintained, have limited functionality, and simply cannot provide the same user experience for everyone that can be provided by making the “regular” website accessible.

In addition, the presumed target audience for text-only versions of websites (screen reader users) includes people with partial sight and people with learning or cognitive disabilities. These users benefit from the visual cues of the graphic site and may find a text-only website more difficult to navigate and understand. 

The original Section 508 guidelines permitted the use of a text-only website as a last resort. But with the availability of modern accessibility techniques, there is rarely a need for this. If a website is coded properly, screen readers and browsers generally work smoothly together to offer a streamlined user experience. Rarely is this attainable with a text-only website.

In the end, it is much more effective, easier, and less expensive to design and create one accessible website from the beginning than to create and maintain parallel websites.

A demonstration of how web content sounds to someone using screen reader software and characteristics of accessible web pages are shared in the video Using a Screen Reader.