Why should we care about accessibility?

Accessibility is such an important topic, but it doesn’t always get as much attention or focus as it should, often because people don’t realise how much of an impact it really has. As such, I wanted to write this post and cover at least a few of the reasons that accessibility is important and why you should care about it.

I originally wrote this with a mind towards the accessibility of digital content (such as documents, websites and software), but hopefully it proves useful to people looking at accessibility in other contexts too.

In no particular order:

Disabilities are more common than you probably realise

According to Jenny Lay-Flurrie (Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer) there are more than 1 billion people worldwide that have some form of disability. 1 billion! That’s more than three times the current population of the entire United States (approximately 328 million at the time of writing). You can’t afford not to care about accessibility; no matter the industry you work in, you almost definitely have customers or users that have some form of disability and you’re doing them a disservice if you don’t take steps to include them.

Changes made to improve accessibility often benefit many different groups

Changes made to accommodate disabilities are often changes that help more than just the targeted group. Here are some examples:

  • Adding subtitles to a video helps:
    • People with hearing difficulties
    • People who don’t speak the language fluently
    • People who want to watch the video quietly or on mute
  • Adding alternative text (alt-text) to images helps:
    • People using a screen-reader
    • People who don’t understand the content of the image
    • Web scrapers to accurately categorise your content and display it on relevant searches

Accessibility changes should be implemented even if the changes don’t benefit additional groups, but this reason is a great way to convince people who argue against the time spent or cost involved with implementing these kinds of changes.

The gains outweigh the effort

If someone is using a screen-reader to browse a website and they come across an image with no alt-text and an unhelpful filename, it may very well be useless to them. The impact might be low if it’s purely decorative, but what if it’s a critical part of the content (such as a graph)? Alt-text should only be a short description of what the picture shows and I’ve found that they usually take about 10-20 seconds to write, so when I hear the argument “it takes too long to implement accessibility” I’m doubtful; are you really unable to spend these few seconds to make a positive change even if it might be the difference between your content being useful to everyone or being useless to large groups of people?

It’s easy to start

Accessibility is not an all or nothing endeavour: minor improvements are still improvements. As such, starting on the journey towards accessibility is as simple as learning about common problem areas and how to fix them.

For example: if you’re a Microsoft Office user, there’s a great set of training videos on accessibility. What about if you build, design or otherwise help create websites? The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have an excellent primer on easy things that you can check to see whether your website meets some accessibility basics.

For just about any topic, you can search “<topic> accessibility” and you’ll likely find something useful.

There are laws requiring accessibility

In many countries, there are laws requiring accessibility both in the physical world (braille on signs and wheelchair access in public places for example) as well as in digital spaces (such as websites and software). I’m not a lawyer and I couldn’t possibly list laws for every country, but you can find more information by searching for “<country/state> accessibility laws” and going from there.

It’s the right thing to do

I can’t imagine that this is a controversial point, but it’s worth making: people with disabilities deserve the same access to information, content and services as everyone else. Making things accessible shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the default. It shouldn’t be looked at as a bonus feature, but part of the minimum requirements.

Conclusion

Content that lacks accessibility is almost always a result of apathy or a lack of understanding, so it’s important that accessibility as a topic is discussed openly and widely. When more people realise that small changes can have a huge impact, we’ll hopefully start to see accessible content become the default.

Start your accessibility journey today. Learn more about why it’s important. See what you can do to make the content you produce more accessible. Talk to your friends and colleagues about it. Take that first step!

Things I’m Going to Change in 2019

On Friday night I went to the pub with some work colleagues and while we were there, I received a few words of wisdom that inspired me to think about 2019 and how I want to approach it. Self-assessment is very important to me and I felt like posting my plans as a blog post would help me come up with something more concrete, keep me accountable and make it easier for me to review my progress at the end of the year.

As such, in 2019 I want to:

Finish the things that I’ve started

As I write this blog post I currently have 19 others sitting as drafts. While the majority of them are still in their early stages, there are more than a few that are very close to being finished. I have a habit of getting excited about a new idea for a post and dropping my current drafts to work on that instead, even though the hours that I spend on a new blog post could easily be used to finish multiple current drafts (the irony of writing a new post to say this is not lost on me). This year, I’m going to try to focus more on actually completing the things that I start. I’ll finish the software that I’ve started writing, publish the blog posts I’ve already got and generally try to start new things only after I’ve finished the old.

Be less of a perfectionist

As much as calling myself a perfectionist might sound like bragging, I’ve always felt that perfectionism isn’t a positive trait. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean that I produce perfect work, but that I am often unnecessarily critical of what I create and concerned about how others perceive it. A key point that I’m trying hard to learn is that avoiding perfectionism doesn’t mean not caring about quality, it’s about learning the concept of good enough.

Be happy with what I do get done

I really struggle with blaming myself for not getting more done in my spare time. This usually manifests as a feeling of guilt when I’m watching TV or playing video games, where I feel that I should be working on something more “practical” like writing some code or working on a blog post. While I do enjoy the time I spend on projects, I also want to learn to be happy with however I choose to spend my time. Feeling guilty about relaxing doesn’t make the time more practical, it just ruins the relaxation!

Be more decisive

This one is pretty simple: I’m going to spend less time getting caught up in analysis paralysis and more time actually making decisions, especially for those decisions that don’t really matter in the long term. I sometimes take more time deciding on how to approach a task than it would have taken to complete the whole thing! The biggest difficulty with this will be trying to figure out which decisions don’t really matter and therefore can be made easily, and which are still important enough to spend time on.

Learn to see failure as a learning experience

One of the great pieces of advice that I was given on Friday was that failing isn’t a bad thing, it’s an opportunity to learn. I have a habit of taking failure quite badly which can make it difficult to objectively analyse what happened and learn from it. It can also make me less willing to put myself in situations where failure is a possibility!

Conclusion

I feel like 2019 is going to be a big year for me both personally and professionally and I feel like If I can stick to the above points hopefully I can get the most of out of it. Time will tell with how successful I am!