Accessibility Tunnel Vision

Tunnel showing light and three people at the end

When I first jumped into web accessibility, I came away from problems or challenges frustrated. A lot. When I researched potential solutions, I often found more questions and opinions than answers. It happens frequently in the accessibility world. Why? I’ve heard Joseph Karr O’Connor joke about this. To paraphrase:

If you get six accessibility experts in a room talking about a problem, you’ll have 14 different opinions on how to solve it.

If you’re a web designer or developer trying to make the best decision for your users and project, I can see how that would be disappointing and confusing. If you’re trying to learn about accessibility so you can create with accessibility in mind, I understand why you might give up. Accessibility is hard, you’d think. Then you might move on and decide accessibility is beyond your reach.

How the Tunnel Vision Happens

We both need to face a reality. I say we because we because we both suffer from tunnel vision. In this scenario, I have the accessibility knowledge and you’re new to the arena and want to learn more. So how do we both get tunnel vision?

I get so focused on helping you create the perfect, accessible solution that sometimes my recommendations carry a certain “do or die” tone. They may seem unreasonable when weighed against the best practices you use each day. Or worse, they may do more harm than good for the interface you’re creating. I just want you to embrace how empowering accessibility can be. Not just for you as a creator, but for all users of your project.

You come into accessibility with an open mind. But deep down, you’re scared. You think accessibility will make your design ugly, blow your timeline and force you into skipping out on some cutting-edge features. You give it a try, and you fix one or two issues I find in my testing, but then you punt the rest until the next release. You’re just trying to build the best thing you can. You don’t want accessibility to get in the way of that.

See Accessibility for What It Is

Accessibility is a design constraint. Treat it like one. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but in the sense that a constraint forces us to push boundaries and think ahead. Approach accessibility like any other constraint in your process. For example: selecting colors that invoke a certain emotion for a brand or creating a layout that will prompt a specific action from users. These limitations represent problems you have to think about throughout your process to reach the best solution for your users. Accessibility is no different.

I need to see accessibility for what it is too. That means, like everything else on the Web, I need to embrace its fluidity. It can’t be perfect, but it can improve incrementally with each release. Better than before is always better than perfect.

Let’s get out of the tunnel together.

 Image courtesy of

Published by David A. Kennedy

I work as a Senior UX Designer at Ad Hoc, focusing on accessibility.

2 replies on “Accessibility Tunnel Vision”

  1. I hope designers are heartened by the fact that there can be different opinions on how to address a problem. While frustrating to begin with (But what is *the* answer?!) you come to realize that there can be different ways to ensure accessibility, and you can pick the one that best fits your particular design objective.

  2. Great blog, David. I think a lot of people who work in accessibility or who have been “evangelised to” by people who work in accessibility will relate to your points.

    Two of my key messages in my work with clients are: “don’t let the tail way the dog” (making a product accessible may not help your business, as it could create a product which is more usable for disabled people but less usable for non-disabled people, whereas making it inclusive of as many people as reasonably possible always makes sense) and “asking challenging questions often inspires innovation” (rather like your ‘accessibility as a design constraint’, constraints can often cause us to come up with breakthroughs in product iteration).

    I’ve put loads of examples of this pragmatic thinking on accessibility in my book ‘Including your missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility’. Anyone interested in getting a free sample of the book can check it out at

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