I’ve been making websites for nearly 19 years and my biggest struggle is that I don’t have a good grasp on accessibility. Other web developers I’ve spoken with have similar feelings, a secret shame about not knowing enough. Universal Access is core to the philosophy of the web, yet it’s an Achilles Heel for many web developers.
A personal problem?
It has long bothered me why my knowledge of accessibility is so lacking. In an honest attempt to hone my skills, I spent a few days researching various “most accessibile” code solutions. That experience yielded more questions than it did answers. I came to the following conclusions:
- Information is hard to find.
Often times helpful information is usually stashed away in long academic, data-driven posts that take hours to read. These are wonderful resources, but terrible for beginners or for people trying to glean answers. Sometimes the answer was “Read the spec”, which I find totally unacceptable.
- Information is often out of date.
Best practices and ideas expectedly change over time, but not all blog posts are updated. Tracking down the latest information is a struggle.
- Needs better community feedback.
Accessibility advocates are, for good cause, passionate people. However, in my personal experience, feedback does not always come back in the most helpful forms. No issues filed on Github. No 1-to-1 private emails. No evangelism. Just public-facing tweets or long form blog posts that say “Not accessible enough”. Tone matters and indirect communication, or worse public shaming, creates an unhelpful and sometime hostile environment.
A design problem
Examining the list above, I realized that the problem was actually something bigger: Accessibility has a design problem. I’m not talking about wonky powerpoints or mediocre blog themes, I’m talking about ease-of-access infrastructure and content strategy. I came up with three principles that I felt would yeild better content:
- Content should be short and digestible, so more people can comprehend, so more websites can get incrementally better.
- Content should leverage Github, so it can be filled with the best, latest information from everyone on the Internet.
- The community can make accessibility easier to learn by being eager to help and not eager to criticize.
So myself and a ragtag team of dedicated developers created The A11Y Project, with the following content strategy: be brief, be open, be nice. It shouldn’t be so hard to make an accessible website, nor to find the information. The goal of The A11Y Project is to create a resource that every front end developer can rely on so that together we can incrementally improve the internet.
In August, I wrote down ~40 short post title ideas but it wasn’t until last week that ShopTalk had Drew “The Executer” Wilson and a question about accessibility from Laura Kalbag. That was the perfect storm. I was inspired to execute on the idea within a short timeline constraint. I bought a domain and got the framework up on Thursday night. Friday, reached out to people on Twitter and got them access to the Github repo. With their help, by Sunday we were ready to launch with 2 new features (a checklist and resources page).
I’m absolutely impressed with skills and knowledge the people who have contributed thus far have brought to the table. Everyone seems to share the same level of excitement for lowering the barrier to entry for accessibility and, ultimately, make the web a better place for everyone.
I’ll leave with a quote from The Great Bird of the Galaxy, Gene Roddenberry, whose dream for an attainable, near-future utopia I admire:
“It’ll go on, without any of us, and get better and better and better, because that’s the… that really is the human condition. It’s to improve and improve.” - Gene Roddenberry