My approach to accessibility
Through a post from Ethan Marcotte I got drawn into the accessibility topic. Web accessibility, like defined by the W3C, was not on my radar until then and that is not good.
The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.
To quote the Mozilla Developer Network:
Accessibility is the practice of making your websites usable by as many people as possible. We traditionally think of this as being about people with disabilities, but the practice of making sites accessible also benefits other groups such as those using mobile devices, or those with slow network connections.
I want to explore this field, develop my skills and make better, accessible websites.
Why accessibility matters to me
- It´s possible: As a web developer, I work with a medium that allows to provide content to people who cannot access the same content in other ways, like for example by reading a book. Through the technology it´s possible to include more people, and give them access to content. I think that´s a very good thing and consequentially, as a web developer, it´s my responsibility to work towards inclusion and make use of what is state of the art. I am concerned that web accessibility got worse during the last twelve months.
Without the internet, I´d be stuck. I can´t use books. I´d be sitting in the corner with a dunce´s hat.
- Our abilities change: I should not think of enabled and disabled people as being two separate groups, and, of course, I as as a web developer am among the enabled. The truth is, our abilities degrade over time. When thinking about accessibility, I´d rather think about my future self! My field of vision will degrade and I might develop motoric difficulties, which will make it hard to handle a mouse or trackpad properly. I will get slower in understanding, my attention span might be reduced, and probably it will become difficult to memorize things. Getting in the most straightforward way to relevant content will become more important for my future self than it is today (and already today it´s very important). How will my future self handle the clever website I am building right now?
- Site design improves: Striving for a direct and frictionless path to relevant content improves website design in general. Thus, making the content of a site more accessible will improve the overall site design. Consider looking at An alphabet of accessibility issues. Also, I think that´s in line with Laura Kalbag´s approach of universal web accessibility:
I take a universal design approach to accessibility wherever possible. Universal web accessibility helps us create sites that are usable by the widest, most diverse audience, rather than creating bolt-on solutions that might benefit one group at the expense of another.
- Design process improves: Accessibility is not something to put on top of an already completed site design. It must be part of the entire design process, from the start. I believe the very best approach is to collaborate during the entire process with diverse people, some of them with disabilities in one or another way. That could be inclusive design.
- The web improves: The accessible web is a better web. The more web designers start to learn and think about accessibility, the better our web will be.
- Improve myself: As a web developer, I´m building things for the web. I am deep into the technology. Things that are easy to achieve for me by using a computer are not so easy for most other people! Making accessibility a default skill in my developer toolbox is helping me coming down to earth, develop empathy, and make the things I am building more usable.
What do I have to accept
To imagine my future self as someone who is not so quick anymore is one thing, but it must be a different experience of not being able to see the contents of a page and still navigating the web. I don´t have that experience and it´s frightening me. Considering how many years it took me to develop a desired direction, an understanding and a style for my website designs, I have to accept that it takes probably years to develop the necessary skills to build accessible websites.
What I want to do about it
I want to start improving now. Here is my plan: I focus on the topic of accessibility
- by identifying people who have something to say about it,
- by reading more about it,
- by applying best practices in my work – at first I will try things out on my personal site here,
- by finding resources to test for accessibility.
I will maintain a list of useful things, like articles, tools, or techniques. I hope, by learning from it I will make accessibility more accessible for myself and provide a more inclusive user experience with my web projects.