Let's Talk About Accessibility
Yesterday (20th of May 2021) marked the 10th Global Accessibility Awareness Day, celebrated on the third Thursday of each May. It started from a single blog post from Joe Devon and has grown into a global event since then.
One example of what Global Accessibility Awareness Day, or GAAD, has achieved is GAAD Pledge. The first company to take the pledge was Facebook, committing to make the React Native framework fully accessible.
Why is GAAD Important?
I believe raising awareness about accessibility is essential. I mean, if we, who are creating the web, aren't aware of these things, how in the heck can we assume the sites and apps will be built in a way that everyone, whether they have a disability or not, can use them?
But it is not just that. The importance of raising awareness is not that only developers would know; it's about the other roles too. If designers ignore accessibility, some things (say, color choices) are hard to fix on the developers' end. If the product owner cares more about IE6 users than accessibility, well, those bugs get prioritized. If the people who decide on the budget see other things as more important, developers can't fix that.
WebAIM has conducted its yearly analysis on the top million sites on the internet. In February 2021, 97.4% of these sites had detectable accessibility errors. And as they've used an automated tool for the analysis, it doesn't even catch all the failures. (Automated testing tools catch only about 15-40% of the accessibility failures.) So this means that sites like Google, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and others on the top million sites list have many accessibility barriers.
About 1 billion people worldwide need websites to be designed and developed with accessibility in mind in order to be able to use those sites. If we don't do that, we are excluding a hell of a number of people. You know, actual people, and not just numbers.
But it's Not Only About the Websites
Okay, I've been writing from a perspective of a (web) developer and touched on a couple of other roles that are part of creating sites and apps. How about the others? Don't they need to know about accessibility? Well, yes, they do.
It's About Social Media
Let's think about, for example, social media for a while. Even if the app or site is developed to be accessible, the content creators may make it inaccessible. Adding alternative texts or image captions is the content creators' responsibility, as are adding captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions for videos and audios.
If you are now wondering what the heck am I writing here, let me explain— a person who can't see the picture benefits from a descriptive image caption. You know, all the information they would get from that image if they saw it.
In the same way, if a person can't hear, due to being deaf or, as in my case, just browsing the Instagram stories without sound, having captions for those videos is crucial. Audio descriptions of a video are essential for those who can't see. And for those, who are, for example, deafblind, transcripts are a must.
And oh, why I'm using phrases like "those who can't see/hear" instead of, for example, a person who is blind or deaf, is because this goes further than that. As with all the accessibility improvements, we all could benefit. As mentioned, I rarely watch Instagram stories with a volume on, so when people add captions, that means I get the gist of the story. And then I might watch it, not just skip it.
It's About the Language
Another thing is the language we use. This topic is two-sided: First, I want to talk about plain language, and then a bit about ableism.
International Plain Language Federation defines the plain language with the following words:
A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended readers can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.
So, this basically means avoiding jargon and getting to the point as fast as possible. If you're interested in learning more about writing clearly and simply, WebAIM has got you covered..
Another point about the language I wanted to raise is ableism, especially in the language we use. There are certain phrases that are part of the language that we use without thinking. Like, have you ever said that "This week has been crazy!" or "I'm feeling autistic right now" or similar? Well, you know, that's not okay.
You might feel offended right now because you feel like I'm blaming you for something, but that's not the case. We all use language unconsciously, and if we've learned the phrases, they come naturally. So I'm not assuming that you're doing this on purpose, just out of not knowing. And that is fine because now you know and can do something about it. Changing the language we use is a long process (heck, I still make mistakes almost every day), but it is worth it.
Here is an excellent article from Rakshitha Arni Ravishankar explaining more on the reasons why such language is harmful and what we can do about that.
So What Can I Do?
Okay, I got you there, right? And now you know that something needs to be done. It might feel like a lot and overwhelming, but let's take one step at a time. I could give a long list of things to do, but let's start with two.
First, educate yourself. If you're someone in charge of creating sites or apps, learn how to make them accessible. Learn about people with disabilities and their needs. Listen to their stories.
I'm sharing some of my favorite resources here, both from the technical and more general perspective:
- 13 Letters Podcast - A podcast about accessibility with super interesting topics and guests
- The A11y Project Resources - A huge collection of resources about accessibility.
- A11y Talks - Virtual meetup about accessibility. Topics covered have been broad, from marketing to development.
- WebAIM Articles - A collection of resources about disabilities, digital accessibility, laws, and other relevant things
Check Your Content and Language
So, another thing that you could do is to check the content you create. It's possible to add alternative text to images. Here are links to the instructions in some significant social media sites: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter.
If you have videos or audio-only content (podcasts are a good example), make sure that everyone can use that content. Add captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions, whichever are needed for that particular content.
Also, be conscious of your language. If you find yourself using ableist phrases, start making an effort to change those phrases. There are always alternatives.
I hope that this blog post has raised awareness about accessibility for you and that you've learned something new. It would be awesome to hear if that has happened, so please share your learnings! 😊
Cover photo by James Sutton on Unsplash