Not coincidentally, two recent articles have highlighted an interesting tension in the web accessibility community.
The article that started things was “Leave Accessibility to the Experts Please:”
There’s a fine line between inducing conversation and creating havoc. In the field of web accessibility (which is very complex and fragile already), it seems that this line has been crossed at least a couple times lately.
The author argues that non-accessibility-expert web design bloggers were raising questions about accessibility that had already been settled. By doing so, the argument went, these articles slow the spread of good accessibility practices that are already established.
Less Fear. More Cheer!
But this argument rubs me the wrong way and I found my thoughts being put into words in the cryptically titled, “We have to stop FUD accessibility.” What this weird title refers to is a certain style of accessibility advice-giving—which I think the previous article almost advocates—that focuses on what not to do. ((Relatedly, you’ll sometimes see programmers reference the mythical computer function doing_it_wrong(). Rarely, if ever, do you see doing_it_right().)) In particular, the author notes these frequently-heard criticisms:
- Fear: “You will be sued if your site isn’t accessible.”
- Uncertainty: “You will have missed something in the process anyway, see my totally different example here!”
- Doubt: “You don’t have enough knowledge anyway.”
I’ve recently come to believe that I’ve done this too much, and I’m working on focusing more on explaining how to do it right.
Something is Better Than Nothing
In a perfect world, every website would receive attention from an accessibility expert. I would also like a world-class chef to cook me dinner every night. Neither is going to happen.
That means that we need everyone who builds websites to do their best to understand accessibility. And the only way that can ever happen is for people to share their knowledge of best practices. Whether it’s via tweets, blog posts, or in-person conversations, the word has to get out somehow and I don’t think there are enough accessibility experts to do this on their own.
WordPress is Figuring This Out Too
Since I’m so involved with it, I want to take a small WordPress detour.
I think WordPress’s core development team is dealing with these same issues but in reverse. At present, there is a separate team for Accessibility. What this implies to me—and at least some of the people on the accessibility team—is that the other teams aren’t on the hook for making their features accessible unless a member of the accessibility team takes the initiative to get involved.
Like accessibility on the web in general, there are just too many new WordPress changes for accessibility experts to track each one. If WordPress is to take accessibility seriously, then everyone building anything must consider accessibility. The experts only have enough time to help on the more complicated issues.
People respond better to criticism when it’s sandwiched between compliments. People respond better to “No” when it’s phrased as “Yes, but…” Accessibility is important, and getting it right requires the efforts of everyone on the web. So I hope every web worker can become an accessibility-conscious web worker and let the accessibility experts focus on the hard stuff.