Thinking About Web Accessibility Differently

This is the first in a three-part series on everyday accessibility.

Accessibility is hard. It shouldn’t be.

Most people can’t define it. When you point a UXer, designer, developer, project manager or stakeholder to official specs, like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), created by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C or the United States’ Section 508 standards, they have a hard time understanding what those specs actually mean.

This creates a negative mindset from the very beginning and blocks progress in a very real way. This has to stop. Accessibility isn’t just a legal mandate or list of requirements. It’s really about people. You.

You already have what it takes to make the Web accessible. Yes, really. No matter how much you know about web accessibility, you can make the Web a better place for everyone. In today’s world of evolving web standards, emerging best practices and a growing number of connected digital devices, the most important part of the puzzle is you. You, the web user. You, the project manager. You, the user experience designer. You, the web designer. You, the web developer.

What Accessibility Really Means

Making something accessible means designing and building websites and web applications that work for the widest possible audience, no matter their ability or disability. The Web’s creators developed it to be used by anyone, recognizing that its true power stems from its universality. They built it to be that way without any special configuration. We’re the ones that usually muck it up. How do we not do that?

Be Aware

While the technical details matter, your awareness matters more. The web accessibility landscape is far from clear and the perfect answers won’t always exist. Embrace this uncertainty as fuel for moving forward.

You need to:

  • design and develop without fear, uncertainty and doubt: It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that web accessibility will limit your creativity or your ability to build the next big thing. Don’t let that happen. Accessibility can be beautiful and help spur new approaches to old problems, especially when we keep doing what we know how to do. Move forward with confidence.
  • know what you don’t know: No one knows it all, and that’s okay. We’re better together when we’re honest with ourselves and those around us. Do your best to plan, design and code in the open so you and others can pinpoint accessibility obstacles early, learn more and find solutions to problems faster.
  • favor pragmatism over perfection: Focus on creating solutions to accessibility problems and not just on the problem itself. Aim to show each other the balance between pushing boundaries and following established principles. You may make compromises along the way, but don’t sacrifice your design vision. Accessibility is just another design constraint.
  • contribute to the accessibility body of knowledge: The Web flourishes most when its people, processes, tools and systems are open. Welcome that. Share your ideas, your barriers, your processes and your code – even when they may not fit neatly into a case study or showcase. Examples and experimentation inform progress.

You can help make web accessibility a reality, and easier for everyone who creates on and uses the Web. You know what to do next.

This is the first in a three-part series on everyday accessibility.