Conservative Design & Development in “The inaccessible web” [link]

Did you just come from the UserWay blog? Read this.

I just discovered that the UserWay blog is linking to this post. This is unfortunate for a few reasons:

  1. Their post mis-attributes a quote to me, when instead it is clearly quoted from the article by Mischa Andrews. Reading the entire post makes this very clear.
  2. UserWay, among other things, makes an “accessibility widget” tool. This tool is a form of performative accessibility. People who need features like high contrast or spoken content already have tools to do those things. What they need are accessibly coded and written websites, something that cannot simply be purchased and slapped on a website. (Similar to the problem of “accessibility overlays”.)

The way this post was cited and the claims it supports are counter to tools like UserWay’s accessibility widget. Do not use one. Instead, vnvest in hiring accessibility testers who rely on assistive technology and website editor accessibility education.

Making your website accessible is an amazing goal you should strive for. The only way to do it is with ongoing attention and care. Magic bullets like UserWay are too good to be true.

A while back, I wrote about how I’m a “web conservative.” Recently, I was reading “The inaccessible web: how we got into this mess” by Mischa Andrews, and it perfectly described what I was getting at:

When clients and executives and developers and — anyone, really — talk about digital innovation, do they always mean it? Or is ‘innovation’ also used to mean ‘fashion’?

Most web designers have had a client — or several — who have been unhappy with a website that didn’t pop. These experiences have affected us. A website isn’t valued unless it’s sexy.

While there’s value in aesthetics and good design, fashion is dangerous because it changes rapidly and pushes digital products into unfamiliar, untested territory.

Accessibility and style aren’t mutually exclusive, but following design trends (or even last-minute ideas) without proper consideration and testing will lead to accessibility disasters … not to mention other potential usability problems.

To bring accessibility back into the picture, we need to slow things down. This doesn’t mean you can’t innovate, but it does mean spending more time considering and testing your creations.

The whole article is excellent—that’s just part of point #5—but I really wanted to share that. I’m not against beauty or slickness or new tech or innovation or creative thinking, but dangerous complexities and downsides can lie beneath the surface of even the simplest-seeming untested ideas.

For clients like mine who don’t have the time and budget to do tons of user testing—including with assistive technology users—it’s so important to tread carefully and rely on well-tested patterns and code that make the web accessible by anyone.

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