Making Web Accessibility Accessible

Posted December 18th, 2006 by Mike Cherim

Web accessibility isn’t exceptionally difficult to get a handle on, and the majority of its practices fit nicely into contemporary web development, especially if said development adheres to web standards. It’s like most things, you just have to embrace it a bit. But, when first learning web accessibility and uncovering its secrets, like many things, it can seem daunting and difficult. I think a lot of developers are downright intimidated by web accessibility — maybe even scared to go that route. But why? I suspect the reason is web accessibility is a discipline that lacks accessibility. Just look at the play book (and what’s ahead).

Due to this fairly complex guide, developers tend to ask for answers instead of researching them. They rely on the human element to investigate the facts. Some accessible web developers gladly teach by words, willingly teach by example, and volunteer to illuminate the way for the less informed, but this isn’t always the case. Not to say new practitioners shouldn’t do research and be lazy — they should try to answer their own questions — but sometimes it’s human help that’s needed. Resources are available: blogs like Access Matters and Roger’s 456 Berera St., forums like the Accessify Forums, organizations like GAWDS, mailing lists, and more, but there’s something about human hand-holding that is comforting.

Looking for this human help I’ve noted at times a newer developer will ask another developer who’s glowing with a aura of guru a question hoping to understand a concept or technique and the answering developer will respond in techno-tongues, not respond at all, or return with a link to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. I don’t see this a lot, most are more helpful than that, but it exists, especially if the newer developer is especially uninformed and the person they’re asking is especially guru-tastic. Sometimes, and this is a real shame, the guru will respond brashly or with a certain amount of arrogance. Stars should shine but never blind.

This should never be the case. If a senior developer really wants people to practice web accessibility, they themselves should be accessible, or approachable I guess. Being a guru got you down? Sorry, questions and whatnot come with the territory. Try to remember back when you didn’t know stuff. Web accessibility and the people who know it best need to be friendly and willing to put it into bite size chunks if need be. If web accessibility is in itself accessible, more people will try it on for size. Once it’s realized sites don’t have to look like crap or remain function-free, it will meld into mainstream development more quickly and more readily.

This post is not a gripe, it’s not a rant or complaint, and it’s not pointed at anyone in particular (though I’ve heard some merely grunt if approached). It’s a reminder; it’s a plea. It’s an askance for understanding. If accessibility itself isn’t accessible then something is seriously wrong. Here are some suggestions to make it right:

Be a translator.
Try to interpret the rules and put them in more reasonable terms and words that are more readily understood.
Be willing to give back.
You may be a super star now but you wore diapers at one time too. Be approachable and volunteer some time to individuals not just groups who pay to bask in your glow. No, you won’t get paid for your words or time, and it may seem like work with intangible rewards at best, but it’s the price of stardom. Don’t let someone take advantage, but not even responding is cold.
Accessibility is happy.
To help make accessibility accessible, paint a smile on its face. Make it friendly. Make sure it’s not perceived as some evil monster. And don’t you be one.
Encourage don’t admonish.
It’s doesn’t matter if a developer’s metamorphosis isn’t compete, acknowledge what they’ve done just as easily as you do pointing out what they didn’t do. It feels good to make people feel good.

I’m busy, we’re all busy, and we need to earn a living, but holding someone’s hand a little won’t hurt. If it makes the science and art of web accessibility more accessible, isn’t it worth it? It won’t be too daunting if everyone takes a hand in theirs.

3 Responses to: “Making Web Accessibility Accessible”

  1. Joe Dolson responds:
    Posted: December 18th, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    That’s a great article - just communicating about accessibility makes the possibility that it can become the de-facto expectation for web development more real. Holding hard-earned knowledge captive does nothing but prevent the principles of accessibility from spreading.

    (On an unrelated side note, I like your text implementation for your related posts…)

  2. Trebuchet is hard to read - dev|sushi responds:
    Posted: December 18th, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    […] I just came from reading the latest article on Beast-Blog by Mike Cherim which is about accessible accessibility. I enjoyed the article but reading it was certainly a chore. “Why?” you ask; Trebuchet, that is why. […]

Sorry. Comments are closed.

Note: This is the end of the usable page. The image(s) below are preloaded for performance only.