Making Accessibility Accessible

Not coincidentally, two recent articles have highlighted an interesting tension in the web accessibility community.

Experts Only

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.

Positive Thinking

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.

2 thoughts on “Making Accessibility Accessible”

  1. I’m the author of “Leave Accessibility to the Experts Please”. You state that my argument is that “these articles slow the spread of good accessibility practices…”; more accurately my point was more that these articles *give false/misleading information* which is what causes misinformation and confusion (havoc). The 2 articles that I refer to are written by the top leaders in their field (neither is accessibility) whom many, many people worship, so their ill-guidance (whether intentional or not) steered them in the wrong direction.

    Also, about my blog you state “this argument rubs me the wrong way” then you say “let the accessibility experts focus on the hard stuff” which is basically what my blog was about.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to come over and share a bit more behind your motivations for posting the article, @webaxe.

    The broader point I’m trying to make is that I want everyone working on the web to learn and share information about accessibility. Because that is bound to lead to some people getting things wrong at times, I want to make sure that the discourse between those with knowledge and those without stays positive and learning-focused. Tone matters.

    While not mentioned above, I also think it’s a fair assumption of both accessibility experts and others to question long-accepted techniques if they are presented with evidence that it may be wrong or that the technology has changed enough to warrant reconsideration.

    Where I think we both agree though, is that anyone who posts information should be responsible for researching before hand and posting followups and corrections should they be warranted.

    Thanks again for your comment!

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