Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Denis Boudreau Suggests A New Approach to Web Accessibility

Denis Boudreau just proposed A New Approach to Web Accessibility – Learning to Let Go. In effect, he suggests that accessibility advocate stop discussing success criterion and focus more on discussing the barriers. He suggest we trust web developers to use their imaginations to resolve those barriers. I think there’s value in these ideas, yet I’m not convinced that’s what developers want.

I read that post as I was preparing slides for a presentation to a large organisation’s web development team. Quite à propos, wouldn’t you say? Here are some thoughts that jumped out at me:

  • That "post is about forgetting what we want for a minute and thinking about what designers and developers want"
  • "We the accessibility community are part of the problem every time we teach developers and designers about Success Criteria"
  • " Instead of boring people to death with Success Criteria and Techniques, let’s inspire them with the principles."

I’ve always believed that when someone understands *why* something is needed, they will have a greater buy-in to the issue. In doing awareness and/or accessibility trainings, I talk about the barriers faced by people who have various impairments. In many ways, I do what Denis is suggesting – I attempt to provide understanding of the issues rather than just feed the standards to the attendees. In that, I agree with Denis – teaching Success Criteria is not the way to go.

That said, I had several interactions with developers recently that made me question this. It started with Confoo. Several people commented after my presentations that they had expected something more concrete, that they’d wanted to hear about WCAG, and specific techniques to ensure web accessibility. Never mind that neither of my sessions were about accessibility techniques. One session was about the evolution of assistive technology, the other about rights and responsibilities of both developers and people with disabilities. Nevertheless, that’s not what people wanted out of "accessibility sessions".

Perhaps developers who told me they wanted to learn about specific techniques to make websites accessible unconsiously bought in the idea that Success Criteria are the be all and end all of web accessibility. Perhaps. The feeling I got was that they saw implementing accessibility was an added burden, something they really didn’t want to have to think about, but that they were directed to do so either by their bosses or legislation. I believe that they want to be given the minimum amount of information that won’t make them think. They want that magic formula that they can apply to their designs that will ensure access. Minimal effort and investment for maximum result.

And that means that illustrating access by giving case studies is not going to make these people happy.

Is it a somewhat utopian idea to believe developers will unleash their creativity if given half a chance. But I like that idea. Until about a month ago, I would have bought into it whole heartedly. Now, I’m not so sure.