Welcome to A11y

Dear Accessibility Newcomer,

So you’ve gotten yourself into a project that requires accessibility. That big scary word comes along with the acronyms Section 508 or WCAG. You drop a few search terms into your favorite search engine thinking you can figure out this accessibility thing in an afternoon and have an answer before tomorrow morning. But in a world where we want clear guidance and battle-hardened code snippets at the end of a few keystrokes, you find nothing but conflicting opintions and technical specifications.

You feel deterred. Maybe you’ll leave accessibility to the specialists. After all, users with disabilities and special needs seem like just a mystery. But we need you. If you want to design solutions and craft code that does not exist, we have challenges ready for you. And guess what? You can use JavaScript! If you want to make the web better for everyone, we have a place for you. Welcome to A11y.

Oh, you may not know what a11y means. That stands for accessibility – 11 letters between the “a” and “y”. Get it? So why do we need you?

Expanding the Body of Knowledge

The accessibility community needs a body of knowledge that the Web community can rely on for correct information plus design and code samples that evolve along with the Web. We need your help knowing what makes sense, what questions you have and what solutions work best for the busy web worker.

Conflicting Opinions

In the accessibility world, we’re great at handing out different opinions on how to solve problems. We just want to help you see how empowering accessibility can become for not just you, but all the users of your site. You can help us stay pragmatic, test our assumptions and create better solutions to accessibility challenges.

A11y is Everywhere

Most of the time, web designers and developers try to corral web accessibility into one phase of a project. But that doesn’t work because accessibility effects everything. It can’t fit it into a simple list because it’s just as much part of the research process as it is design code and testing. You can help because we need people with skills and passions in all those areas so we make accessibility happen seamlessly.

Your Voice Matters

Read some of the popular accessibility email lists, blogs or Twitter, and you’ll see many of the same names. Many web workers involved in the accessibility community have been here for awhile. In addition to that veteran talent, we need to find and cultivate new voices. That’s you! Speak up and ask questions – we want to hear from you!

Going Faster into the Unknown

Much of the Web fails when it comes to accessibility. I’m not talking about advanced techniques, but basic foundations like keyboard accessibility. Trying to find cutting-edge examples of methods like using ARIA well to power a JavaScrript-based web application is even harder. We should not see this as a frustration, but opportunity. We need you to help us lay the groundwork for a more accessible Web. If you want to design what’s never been designed and write code that’s never been written, you’ve found the right niche.

You’ve found a place where what you do can make the Web work everywhere for everyone. We look forward to getting to know you. Welcome to A11y.

Yours in accessibility,

Google’s ReCaptcha

Google’s ReCaptcha looks promising. From the site:

Every time our CAPTCHAs are solved, that human effort helps digitize text, annotate images, and build machine learning datasets. This in turn helps preserve books, improve maps, and solve hard AI problems.

Often, solving the accessibility problem leads to innovation.

Burnout in Free Software Communities

Siobhan McKeown has an excellent post on Burnout in Free Software Communities, with tips for how to avoid it. This tip is one that I’m trying to get better at myself:

Think about the area in which you can have the most impact and focus on that doggedly. Tackling one problem will have greater impact on the project than trying to do a million things at once.

Hat tip: Joe Dolson.

Blogging Dreams

I’ve blogged for 26 straight days. It has reaffirmed my love for writing, and I’ve had fun watching what has happened as a result. I’m going to write more about this later, but one thing I realized a few days ago centers on impact.

As a writer, you always want to make a difference with your words – be helpful. In the last month or so I’ve had a handful of people I really respect link to my posts or call attention to them on Twitter. One teacher even used one post in a college class.

I’m writing every day and making an impact. Call me a writer. :)

Keep It Accessible and Responsive

Thanks to a few tweets from Russell Heimlich, I ran across Luke Wroblewski’s notes on Jeremy Keith’s An Event Apart Chicago 2012 talk. These lines have stayed with me:

Responsive design isn’t about mobile or desktop design. It’s about the Web. The first Web pages ever were responsive from the start: they adapted to various screen sizes. They are also accessible by default. We do things to semantic Web pages to make them un-responsive and un-accessible. Instead of talking about making Web pages accessible and responsive. We need to talk about keeping Web pages accessible and responsive.

Happy Birthday Skye

My daughter, Skye, turned six-months-old yesterday! It feels like I held her for the first time in the hospital just yesterday.

I love watching her grow in all the millions of ways she does each day. Notable recent milestones include having her first two teeth come in, discovering her toes and trying to stand even though she doesn’t have sitting or crawling down yet. :D

The best part of being a dad so far? Discovering she has shaped me way more than I have her at this point. I think I expected that but not to this degree.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Accessibility in Your MVP

As Larry Bird honed his basketball skills as a young kid in rural Indiana, he practiced the simplest shot the most. He shot more than 100 free throws a day and now holds the ninth best free throw percentage in NBA history.

He became a great (free throw) shooter because of rhythm, repetition and hard work. So what does this have to do with accessibility? The MVP I’m talking about here doesn’t stand for most valuable player, but minimum viable product. We do most things well because of the habits we form. Like Larry, we can form good accessibility habits during our design and development processes, no matter if we’re experimenting, prototyping or shipping to production.

Joe Dolson of the WordPress Accessibility team has written a post on this called Good Coding Habits for Accessibility. In his post Joe outlines a few basic things you can do to make accessibility easier which I’ll summarize:

Your Free Throws

  1. Labels on all form fields.
  2. Alt attributes on images and text alternatives on icon fonts that are just icons.
  3. Keyboard accessibility: Make sure users can access all your controls. Links are links (they go to a resource) and buttons are buttons (they do a thing)
  4. Visible focus styles: If you use the tab key on your keyboard to navigate, can you see where you are on the page?

When you’re building prototypes or early version of your product, these are your free throws. They look simple, but you still need to practice them. If the game is on the line, they could win it for you.

Okay, sports analogies over. These steps fit accessibility into your minimum viable product because they require little effort and make your code quality better. Plus, if you pay attention to them now, you won’t have to worry about silly mistakes slipping into your production code. With enough rhythm, repetition and hard work, you’ll just do them automatically, and accessibility will become much easier.