Web ACCESSibility, not ASSESSibility

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

Web accessibility is the process of making Web sites usable for everyone, regardless of a person’s disability. That’s an important topic since it’s only fair that all users be able use a site (and because the failure of Web owners to have accessible sites could result in litigation); however, it’s not the topic of the blog today.

The topic is the  pronunciation (or rather mispronunciation) of the word accessibility.

Accessibility should be pronounced as it’s spelled–access followed by an ibility. It should not be pronounced assess followed by an ibility as it often is.

That might seem obvious, but based on what I hear at my day job, roughly one-third of those working in the Web field say the word incorrectly, including those at a recent Web conference.

For many linguists, the simple repetition (and then spreading) of the mistake might mean that word should have two correct pronunciations. That’s a simplified version of their argument for the evolution of language. For instance, dove has been mistakenly used as the past tense of dive often enough that both dived and dove are fine.

I’m not a linguist, and I believe that a mistake is a mistake, whether made once or made a million times. And related to today’s topic, saying assessibility makes no sense to me.

Accessibility is about making sure that those with a disability can access a Web site; therefore, it’s logical that the word be pronounced as intended, with access as the first two syllables. Pronouncing it as if the first two syllables were assess can lead to confusion on  part of the listener, especially since someone often has to assess a Web site in order to see if it’s accessible.

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