Talking About Web Accessibility Differently

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

No one wants to talk about accessibility. At least not in an open, honest way.

Search the Web for “web accessibility,” and you’ll find a mixture of introductory articles about the basics, standards documentation and various testing tools. You’ll rarely find people, corporations or organizations admitting accessibility issues and talking about how they fixed them. No one will learn the how and why of accessibility unless we talk about it together, and go beyond the standards and tools to everyday challenges.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change the conversation by making it more akin to the way everything else works on the Web. It needs to be fluid and open. Why does that not happen in the first place? Because most conversations about accessibility end up in an awkward place. Often, people see accessibility differently. Some see it as a feature, a legal mandate or a moral obligation. So naturally conversations involve phrases like:

  • Let’s focus on that in the next release.
  • We need to do it to comply with the law.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

These phrases come from talking about accessibility the wrong way. People see that giant stack of requirements, no matter why they exist, as a yes or no problem that needs to be solved. It’s either victory or failure.

If they feel like they’re succeeding at accessibility within a process, project or organization, no one talks about it because that’s what they’re supposed to do. If they’re failing, they don’t want to talk about it. No one wants to talk about failure, especially failure to meet a legal obligation or complete a reasonable moral obligation.

Accessibility carries the same fluidity as the Web. Web accessibility is progress – forward or backward. See it as a continuum. The steps in the process from bad to better to excellent and vice versa don’t look all that different. But look at the beginning and end of the process, and you’ll see a transformation. The continuum always changes. You control what direction it goes.

Our words can set expectations, deliver inspiration and provide a foundation for action. Let’s talk about accessibility in a way that isn’t so black and white and still. Instead, let’s talk about it as something always in motion, full of chances, twists and turns. The progress of where that all goes belongs to us.

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