Accessibility is not a feature

The yearly Global Accessibility Awareness Day is still some weeks away – this year it be celebrated on 20 May 2021 – but some recent discussions made be pick this topic for my next blog post.

It’s not just a number, it’s people!

In a recent discussion on twitter regarding a corona contact tracing app, the importance of an accessible app was discussed once more. I can’t tell you how many time I’ve read statements like these:

  • Not our target group
  • We don’t have the budget to make the app accessible
  • We will make it accessible later
  • For 80% of the people, it will be usable
  • Those 80% will beta test the app, then we will make it perfect
  • Done is better than perfect

One was even saying, that those 20% who can’t use the app can simply ask someone of the 80% to help them and then we easily get it usable for 100% of the people. That’s simply not true! None of that statements is … even not the budget argument!

When you talk about those 20%, don’t think about them as a number, but as people. You probably all know someone who would belong to the 20% group for any type of technology you can easily use. Heck, you might even belong to that group in some cases. Even if you don’t consider yourself “disabled”, how about an app that is only available in a language you don’t speak and that is using characters your can’t even read. But that’s not an issue right? There is probably one person you know that speaks that language and will happily help you using the app 24/7, so you just have to call them. Then you share your smartphone screen, that’s pretty easy right, anyone can do that, and then this person can help you as it’s no big deal for them.

Why it’s not a feature, but a mindset!

If you happen to develop apps or website for your living, would you ever write a piece of software that is not secure? How about a website that is not responsive or that has bad SEO? You would never intentionally do that, right? But how do you justify to write software that is not usable for almost 100% of the people who need to use it? Do you just don’t care about them? Or don’t you know how to do it?

You probably haven’t known everything about how to make a website responsive. You might even created website as long as I did where there was only just three desktop resolutions and there were not layouts that would not fit on them. But you took the time and learned it because you yourself was annoyed every time you came across a website that was not responsive. Guess what, for those 20% have the exact same experience for most of the websites they have to use daily. And you probably rarely argued these days with a client if a website really has to be responsive and when negotiating the budget the client will most likely just assume that the website is responsive by default.

Once you have learned a bit about website (or general software) accessibility you will realize that is doesn’t really takes so much more time to do it right from the very beginning. Just as with a secure and responsive website you have to keep some things in mind when you start. Otherwise it will be very hard and costly to fix it afterwards. And once you have a mindset towards accessibility, you do it almost automatically … and you will find great pleasure producing a website or software that is accessible. Because everyone can write bad, unresponsive, insecure and inaccessible code, but you can do better, right?

Be empathic, be inclusive!

There might be time when you belong to the 20% group and you will highly appreciate that someone took that little extra effort to make there product accessible. I know that there are some things that are really hard to make accessible and guess what, this might be a sign that those things should not be there in the first place! Or do you really enjoy using things like sliders, accordions, tabs, etc. on a website when you could simply fast scroll through the page to see all the content without having to click all over the place? So any time you find it hard to make things accessible ask yourself if you really need that thing. I know that many clients “wants” them, but do they really? Instead of spending time finding solutions, learn how to convince your client that those things are really a bad idea. If all arguments fail, try to argument with bad performance, security and SEO. Unfortunately most clients will then change their minds, but not only for better accessibility. I hope we will all see the times where accessibility will become just the same kind of “default” as responsiveness has become in the last decade. Until then, it’s your job to just make it happen without even telling anyone you did. Just include it into your developer mindset and make the world a little better for some people. ❤️

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Bernhard is a full time web developer who likes to write WordPress plugins in his free time and is an active member of the WP Meetups in Berlin and Potsdam.

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