When WebAIM evaluates a client’s website for accessibility, we often spend more time evaluating and reporting on ARIA use than any other issue. Almost every report we write includes a section cautioning against ARIA abuse and outlining ARIA uses that need to be corrected or, most often, removed. Ironically, this is often followed by a list of issues that can only be addressed with ARIA.
This quote gets to the heart of my own love-hate relationship with Aria. As a screen reader user, I’ve seen abuses that make me want to strangle developers. I think the worst abuse I’ve ever come across, (and I’m sorry I can’t find it again to provide a demonstration of it), was one where role=”alert” was used to deliver advertisements and calls to action on a website. And it definitely did. “Alert! Buy our stuff! Alert! Download our e-book! Alert! sign up for our mailing list! Alert! Here’s this cool article you should read about whatever hot marketing tip! http://something.something/keyword! Alert! Here’s this other cool thing you should read!” Every few seconds. I have no idea whether the site’s developers or owners or marketers were specifically intending to advertise to screen reader users, or whether they were just trying to get past ad blockers, and I don’t care. All I know is, that site enraged me more than any comments section ever could, and I couldn’t close the window and file it under “Places You Never Go on the Internets Ever Again Under Any Circumstances” fast enough. WordPressers, do not ever do this. If you build sites for clients in any capacity, do not ever do this.
Admittedly, what I’ve recounted above is an extreme case. I’ve never come across anything like it again since. I’m recounting it though because what we as web professionals and hobbyists do on the web has a real impact on people, positive or negative. Whether that impact is positive or negative is solely dependent on us. We can make the web a place for everyone to enjoy and learn and be entertained and obtain things, or we can make it a place that people want to stay as far away from as possible. It’s up to us.