On June 23rd I had the pleasure of participating in an accessibility round-table hosted by Grand Circus with friend and former coworker, Ellen Doornbos. We gave an overview of accessibility and described the various ways it impacted our career paths and work culture, followed by answering questions that came from our audience of mainly Grand Circus bootcamp students and alumns. There were many good questions and requests for resources, so I thought I'd compile a quick summary of insights from our discussion along with a list of resources we shared for those who wish to learn more about accessibility.
How did you first get into accessibility?
My journey into accessibility started with some clients coming to us asking if we could evaluate their sites for accessibility and remediate issues we found. This was due to either noticing industry competitors facing lawsuits for web accessibility issues or getting a mandate from their parent company to improve their site for people with disabilities. To be clear, accessibility has always been one of those things that sat in the back of my mind as something that was important, but this was the first foray into not only learning the ins and outs of what accessibility is, but how to identify problems and implement the appropriate solutions.
I got a further huge wake up call in my personal life, from helping my sister-in-law finish high school. Legally blind as a result of a recent incident, she still had to finish high school by means of an online curriculum that was not geared towards people with disabilities, on a platform rife with accessibility issues. Even if the curriculum and platform had been appropriate, she was a long way from mastering accessibility tools like the built-in screen reader or voice control. This helped bring a real-world perspective to accessibility for me.
How has accessibility impacted your career path?
Accessibility has impacted my career in a variety of ways. I started at Rapid as a front-end web developer and UX designer. While I had made some minor impacts with agile discovery materials in the past, accessibility ended up being a very niche way to set myself apart, even resulting in a promotion. The bigger impact though has been the cultural shift over time. Accessibility is now universally understood as important to everyone in our company, and we are making steps all the time towards incorporating best practices into our workflow across design and development. Being apart of that change is pretty amazing.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the field?
Don’t get caught up in automated testing and success criteria. When you're first learning about accessibility and evaluating sites, automated testing can be a good way to help you diagnose issues, and success criteria are well thought out statements to evaluate your site against. However, if you rely too heavily on these, you can lose site of what they're there for, and that is to improve the experience for people with disabilities. People are what is more important here, not avoiding getting sued or checking off boxes. Inclusivity is key.
Don’t take automated testing at face value. As I said before, automated tests can be a great way to help identify accessibility issues. However, they can only go so far. Automated tests don't catch all of the issues, and can wrongfully diagnose issues as well, because all they have to go on is your site's code, and not your site's purpose or intent. Be sure to check identified issues to make sure they're accurate, and don't blindly implement recommended solutions. From this standpoint, third-party plugins that tout to make a website "fully accessible" have the same issues, in that they can miss major issues, or incorrectly "fix" issues if they aren't coded in a logical way.
Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer or need to conduct research. If you are in a lead position in your company for accessibility, sometimes you may feel pressured to know the answers right away when you're asked an accessibility question. The truth is, we keep growing in our knowledge and capabilities, but the landscape is always changing and chances are there’s plenty you don’t know. There's almost always more than one way to go about an accessible solution. If you don't know what should be done, take the time to research and look for the best answer or solution.
Keep learning. There are so many ways people can interact with the web, and improvements and brand new methods are created all the time. That combined with the fact that for many of us, these tools are not what we normally use in our day to day life, can make it easy to fall behind. Learning how to use assistive technology hardware and software, how code is structured to best communicate with these, and what design practices benefit the widest variety of people is never-ending, and the best thing you can do is to continue pursuing tools, articles, and knowledge to help hone your craft.
What are some good resources to learn more about accessibility?
Here's a list of resources we came up with to share.
- Accessibility Pro Certified: To Be or Not to Be, by Glenda Sims
- The A11y Project - Giant master list of resources
- 6 Surprising Bad Tactics That Hurt Dyslexic Users - UX Movement
Automated Testing Tools
- WAVE - browser extension
- Accessibility Insights for Web - open source project and browser extension
- aXe Chrome extension
- Web Accessibility - Building with Empathy, Udacity course by Google
- A11ycasts YouTube channel
- Inclusive Design 24 - Yearly free 24-hour online conference
- Usability Testing with People with Disabilities - Webinar (from Inclusive Design 24)
There are a plethora of other resources out there, but these can be a great place to start if you want to learn more. I hope in the future to participate in more discussions and presentations like this so the development industry can collectively raise its own awareness and cultural maturity with regards to accessibility. Just like accessibility is about the people and inclusivity, I am always more than glad to discuss the topic or help answer a question. Just reach out to email@example.com and I'll get back to you!