Both Section 508 and the WCAG state that, as a last resort, a separate, accessible website must be provided. As a last resort. Meaning a second site is created if you absolutely cannot achieve accessibility in any other manner.
Wow. If you have to create a mirror site, it makes me ask just what, exactly, is going on with your site in the first place? The sheer amount of effort required to make a site so inaccessible that a second site is required boggles my mind. I can only imagine the effort and maintenance going into this endeavor.
Yet, many developers and their clients immediately assume a second site is the first and best option. After what I can only assume is a quick perusal of the guidelines, it is determined that two sites are better than one.
Not true. The guidelines are very clear on this point. From §1194.22(k) of the Section 508 guidelines:
“A text-only page, with equivalent information or functionality, shall be provided to make a web site comply with the provisions of this part, when compliance cannot be accomplished in any other way. The content of the text-only page shall be updated whenever the primary page changes.“
Note the language: equivalent information or functionality. No matter how you look at this, equivalent means equal, though the shape may change. This means images and forms and content must be maintained on two sites. Sure, it’s a little easier if you have a content management system, but even that’s not a guarantee of success. The bottom line here is duplicate effort is required. Two sets of identical data must be maintained by someone, somewhere, somehow. It’s pretty easy to see how this story will end. And the problems it will create.
Not to mention the questions raised by your so-called “accessible website.” Accessible for whom? How will assistive technology users find this site? What purpose does this site serve? Why are you expending all that effort? For what purpose?
If a site is well-developed the first time, there are few stumbling blocks to maintaining accessbility. The majority are coding issues that can be resolved with policies and procedures bolstered by training. In fact, the very skills required to keep the second site updated are required to keep your inaccessible site current. (because they are, when you get down to it, just following the standards). It’s the exact same HTML. So why are you expending all that effort?
Dual, or multi, use sites reduce effort for everyone involved. Content is entered once. Forms are updated once. Information remains consistent. The site remains accessible.
And that was the goal, right?