Accessibility Whack-a-Mole

Accessibility Whack-a-Mole. Article and illustrations by Eleanor Ratliff. In A List Apart, for people who make websites.

DESIGN is a balancing act—and never more so than when it comes to accessibility (AKA #a11y). So what can you do when an a11y solution you’ve devised for one group creates a fresh a11y dilemma for another?

Through the prism of typeface choice, Eleanor Ratliff relates how she and her team tackled the problem of accessibility whack-a-mole for a rebranding project. In today’s edition of A List Apart, for people who make websites.

This year more than ever, Blue Beanie Day matters

Donald Trump mocks reporter with disability. Photo: CNN.

AT FIRST GLANCE, November 2016 has bigger fish to fry than a small, cult holiday celebrated by web developers and designers.

Each day since November 8, 2016 has brought new, and, to some of us, unimaginable challenges to the surface. Half of America is angry and terrified. The other half is angry and celebrating. At a time like now, of what possible use is an annual holiday celebrated mainly on social media by a tiny posse of standards- and accessibility-oriented web developers and designers?

From Blue Beanies to Black Hats

Many web developers have “moved on” from a progressive-enhancement-focused practice that designs web content and web experiences in such a way as to ensure that they are available to all people, regardless of personal ability or the browser or device they use.

Indeed, with more and more new developers entering the profession each day, it’s safe to say that many have never even heard of progressive enhancement and accessible, standards-based design.

For many developers—newcomer and seasoned pro alike—web development is about chasing the edge. The exciting stuff is mainly being done on frameworks that not only use, but in many cases actually require JavaScript.

The trouble with this top-down approach is threefold:

Firstly, many new developers will build powerful portfolios by mastering tools whose functioning and implications they may not fully understand. Their work may be inaccessible to people and devices, and they may not know it—or know how to go under the hood and fix it. (It may also be slow and bloated, and they may not know how to fix that either.) The impressive portfolios of these builders of inaccessible sites will get them hired and promoted to positions of power, where they train other developers to use frameworks to build impressive but inaccessible sites.

Only developers who understand and value accessibility, and can write their own code, will bother learning the equally exciting, equally edgy, equally new standards (like CSS Grid Layout) that enable us to design lean, accessible, forward-compatible, future-friendly web experiences. Fewer and fewer will do so.

Secondly, since companies rely on their senior developers to tell them what kinds of digital experiences to create, as the web-standards-based approach fades from memory, and frameworks eat the universe, more and more organizations will be advised by framework- and Javascript-oriented developers.

Thirdly, and as a result of the first and second points, more and more web experiences every day are being created that are simply not accessible to people with disabilities (or with the “wrong” phone or browser or device), and this will increase as  standards-focused professionals retire or are phased out of the work force, superseded by frameworkistas.

#a11y is Code for “Love Your Neighbor”

This third point is important because people with disabilities are already under attack, by example of the U.S. president-elect, and as part of of a recent rise in hate crimes perpetrated by a small but vocal fringe. This fringe group of haters has always been with us, but now they are out of the shadows. They are organized and motivated, and to an unmeasured degree, they helped Donald Trump win the White House. Now that he’s there, people of good will ardently hope that he will condemn the worst bigots among his supporters, and fulfill his executive duties on behalf of all the people. I’m not saying I expect him to do this today. I’m saying I hope he does—and meantime it behooves us to find ways to do more than just hope. Ways to make change.

One small thing designers and developers can do is to make accessibility and usability Job 1 on every project. And to take a broad view of what that means. It means taking people’s messy humanity into account and designing for extreme ends of the bell curve, not just following accessibility authoring guidelines. (But it also means following them.)

In doing those things, we can love our neighbors through action. That—and not simply making sure your HTML validates—is what designing with web standards was always about.

On November 30, I will put on my blue hat and renew my commitment to that cause. Please join me.

 

Also published on Medium.

Solve the Right Problem: Derek Featherstone on designing for extremes

Derek Featherstone at An Event Apart

12 LESSONS from An Event Apart San Francisco – № 3: Derek Featherstone was the 10th speaker at An Event Apart San Francisco, which ended Wednesday. His session, Extreme Design, showed how creating great experiences for people with disabilities results in better designs for everyone.

Focusing relentlessly on accessibility helps us think of extreme scenarios and ask questions like “how can we make this work eyes free?” and “how can we make this work with the least amount of typing?” Most importantly, it leads to deeper design thinking that solves problems for everyone who uses our sites and products.

A Map For The Blind

One of my favorite examples from Derek’s presentation had to do with a map. A Canadian city was expanding geographically to encompass some of the surrounding suburbs. The city’s website was charged with letting all citizens know about the change. The web team did what you or I would probably do: they created a map that clearly showed the old and new city limits.

Unfortunately, this visual map was by definition inaccessible to blind citizens, so the city brought in Derek and his colleagues to design an equivalent experience for the unsighted. Derek’s team and the web team pondered typical solutions—such as laborious written descriptions of the city’s shifting geographic borders. But these were not user-friendly, nor did they get to the heart of the problem.

Maybe creating a verbal equivalent of a visual map wasn’t the answer. Derek’s team kept digging. Why was the map created in the first place, they asked. What was the point of it? What were users supposed to take away from it?

It turned out, people wanted to know if their street fell within the new city boundaries because, if it did, then their taxes were going to go up.

Solving for a map wasn’t the point at all. Allowing people to find out if their home address fell inside the new city limits was the point.

A simple data entry form accomplished the task, and was by definition accessible to all users. It was also a much quicker way even for sighted user to get the information they wanted. By solving for an extreme case—people who can’t see this map—the web teams were able to create a design that worked better for everyone.

Tomorrow I’ll be back with another top takeaway from another AEA San Francisco 2016 speaker. The next AEA event, An Event Apart St. Louis, takes place January 30-February 1, 2017.

 

Also published at Medium.

Web Animation with Val Head

The Big Web ShowVAL HEAD and I discuss how to create an animation style guide, the genius of user queries, the web animation API, frame by frame animation, animating with math in Flash, Disney animation and the illusion of life, animating for meaning, how to animate without triggering vestibular disorders, resources for accessible animations, and what to eat in Lawrenceville, PA.

BIG WEB SHOW № 135: How Does Your Brand Live in Motion? Web Animation with Val Head

Open Source Accessibility Testing Library

Introducing Deque’s aXeDeque System’s aXe (The Accessibility Engine) open source library is a lightweight (~100 KB), fast, portable JavaScript library that executes automated accessibility testing inside your testing framework or browser of choice.Re-written from scratch over the last year, leveraging 15 years of accessibility experience, these rules represent the state of the art in automated accessibility testing.

Source: Introducing aXe by Deque!

Online Training to Make Sites and Apps Accessible

ACCESSIBILITY IS LIKE the weather: everyone talks about it, but not enough of us do anything about it. Austin-based Knowbility is one of the few groups in the world with the commitment and expertise to change this. If enough of us fund their new IndieGogo project, they’ll gain the resources they need to create online modules that teach the world how to make our sites work for people with disabilities. This is a cause any web designer or developer should be able to get behind.

I love the web because it is democratic, agnostic, and empowering. Progressive enhancement, responsive design, and other core components of standards-based web design are all about making sure that the experiences we create online are available to any person, via any browser, on any device. That promise is the heart of web accessibility. It will seem obvious to most folks reading this page that a site that works for all is way better than a site that works only for some.

Yet, for all the sophistication and excitement of modern web design, accessibility remains the least-taught, least-understood, least-cared-about of all our new and classic best practices. Let’s help Knowbility change that. Let’s help them help us, and, by extension, help everyone who uses the web (or tries to).

Please contribute to, and spread the word about, Online Training to Make Sites and Apps Accessible: http://is.gd/knowbility. And please hurry! There are only five days left to make a difference.

Update

Here comes Phase II in the fundraising effort. Please visit this updated URL: http://is.gd/knowbility. You know what to do from there. Thanks!

A List Apart Issue No. 367: Apple’s Vexing Viewport

In A List Apart Issue No. 367, Peter-Paul Koch, Lyza Danger Gardner, Luke Wroblewski, and Stephanie Rieger explain why Apple’s new iPad Mini creates a vexing situation for designers and developers who create flexible, multi-device experiences.

Each week, new devices appear with varying screen sizes, pixel densities, input types, and more. As developers and designers, we agree to use standards to mark up, style, and program what we create. Browser makers in turn agree to support those standards and set defaults appropriately, so we can hold up our end of the deal. This agreement has never been more important.

That’s why it hurts when a device or browser maker does something that goes against our agreement—especially when they’re a visible and trusted friend of the web like Apple. Read Vexing Viewports and contribute to the discussion.

This issue of the magazine also marks the departure of Jason Santa Maria as creative director after seven years of brilliant design and support.

Jason’s elegant redesign of A List Apart and its brand in 2005, together with the master stroke of bringing in Kevin Cornell as illustrator, brought the magazine new fame, new readers, and new respect. Over seven great years, his attention to detail, lack of pretension, and cheerful, can-do attitude has made working on ALA a pleasure. Jason was also a key member of the strategic team that envisioned ALA’s upcoming content expansion—about which, more will be revealed when the site relaunches in January.

Jason will continue at ALA as a contributing writer and as designer of A Book Apart (“brief books for people who make websites”), of which he is also a co-founder.

An Event Apart Austin 2012

FOLLOW THE ACTION at An Event Apart Austin – three days of design, code, and content for people who make websites, now taking place in Austin, TX.

A Feed Apart

Just the tweets.

Content First

“In his opening keynote at An Event Apart in Austin, TX 2012 Jeffrey Zeldman talked about the need to keep content front and center in websites and the web design process.” Enjoy Luke Wroblewski’s notes on my presentation, “Content First.”

Responsive Design Workflow

“In her presentation at An Event Apart in Austin, TX 2012 Sarah Parmenter talked about the changes responsive web design requires of web designers.” Enjoy Luke Wroblewski’s notes from her talk on “Responsive Design Workflow.”

On Web Typography

Jason Santa Maria “outlined the current state of web fonts and how to approach typography online.” Luke Wroblewski’s notes on the talk.

Mobile To The Future

My notes on Luke Wroblewski’s AEA Austin presentation.

Content Strategy Roadmap

“In her Content Strategy Roadmap presentation at An Event Apart in Austin TX 2012 Kristina Halvorson talked about how to integrate content strategy into a typical web design workflow.” Enjoy Luke Wroblewski’s notes from her talk.

Rolling Up Our Responsive Sleeves

In this presentation, Ethan Marcotte walks through ways to tackle thorny issues in responsive design layouts, media, advertising, and more. Here are Luke Wroblewksi’s notes on the talk.

The Spirit of the Web

“With the explosion of web-enabled devices of all shapes and sizes, the practice of web design and development seems more complex than ever. But if we can learn to see below this overwhelming surface to the underlying web beneath, we can learn to make sites not for specific devices but for the people using them. This presentation will demonstrate how tried and tested principles like REST and progressive enhancement are more important than ever. By embracing the spirit of the web, you can ensure that your websites are backwards compatible and future friendly.” – Jeremy Keith

Bringing A Knife to a Gunfight (1)

All the links from Andy Clarke’s amazing AEA Austin presentation.

Bringing A Knife to a Gunfight (2)

“Andy Clarke talked about the changing processes in web design and shared a number of tools and techniques that can help designers make transition to a more modern workflow.” Luke Wroblewski’s notes from the talk.

The Real Me (1)

At An Event Apart in Austin TX 2012, Aarron Walter shared why having a personality and story matters for companies. Notes by Luke Wroblewski.

The Real Me (2)

Articles and books cited in the Aarron Walter talk; compiled by AW himself.

Conference Photos

Enjoy the Flickr pool of photos from the three-day web design conference event now being held in Austin, TX.

Watch this space!

More to come.