Part of a Whole

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

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A11y Rules Podcast guests define web accessibility

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Lainey Feingold recentlyja asked for definitions of digital accessibility. It so happens that in talking to all my guests for the A11y Rules Podcast I collected quite a diverse series of definitions. Here they are!

Incidentally, had I not had transcripts for every episode, it would have taken me a LOT longer to compile this list.

Lainey’s ask

A11y Rules Podcast

I have been asking each and every guest for the A11y Rules Podcast very similar questions. One of these questions is:

here are many variation on the definition of “web accessibility”. How do YOU define web accessibility?

What amazes me is that out of nearly 50 guests, I got 50 different answers! Some answers were very similar. Others were more different.

Without comment, here are my guests’ definition of digital accessibility, in order of appearance on the show.

Robert Jolly

That’s a great question, ’cause I spend the majority of my working days really thinking about accessibility and accessibility problems and how to overcome them, but I guess accessibility is a lack of barriers, really, in its essence to me. So that’s … Accessibility can be much more than that. And when I’m putting on my work hat, often accessibility is finding the barriers and then describing them and helping clients and colleagues understand how to remove those barriers or how to design and develop without inadvertently putting barriers into place. So I guess in its essence, it’s absence of barriers.

Denis Boudreau

I like to define it with a very simple statement, which is that content needs to be usable by anyone on any device. Something I picked up a couple years ago, I used to define accessibility as being this very complicated thing, about making content accessible to people with disabilities, and people that are aging, and then there were all these other things that came into play, but ultimately what I realized that it boils down to content being usable by anyone, regardless of the device that they use.

Josh Simmons

Sure, I guess there’s the, some standards that are used. I know here in the United States we’ve got Section 508. I think that to me, accessibility means it’s sort of synonymous with universal design. Insofar as, accessibility is building things such that all people can use them. Whether that means people with issues with sight or issues with sound or motor skills or whatever it is, just making sure that the things that we build are usable by everybody.

Sina Bahram

I think it’s important to define accessibility in the context of two other definitions as well, which is: usability and inclusive design. I’ll define all three by way of giving you a full explanation. For me, I define inclusive and universal design (I use those terms interchangeably. Universal design is the more formal definition). I treat that as the concept of “building things for all audiences”, right? You’re including as many audiences up front in the design process all the way through implementation and testing as possible. This leads to things like having a ramp, but not only for someone who uses a wheelchair, it’s beneficial for a parent with a stroller, or people with luggage at the airport, etc, right?

But then we can take a subset of that, which is to say accessibility. Accessibility to me are those things that we do that specifically benefit someone with a functional limitation or just functional difference than the main audience that was considered. These are somewhat subsets of one another. There’s overlap there. But accessibility to me is the more specific things we do involving assistive technologies and things of that nature, where inclusive design and universal design are the principles that we apply to try frankly limit the amount of accessibility specific things that we do because it’s usable for everybody.

And then I mentioned usability. To me usability is that metric that we use to measure how well we’re doing. Are users less frustrated? Is the visitor to the museum able to access everything and get a content and happy and joyful experience. To me usability is trying to make sure those things are done to the best possible way.

Mark Palmer

I would prefer not to define it as a separate thing. I think web accessibility is just good user experience. It’s very tempting to think of it as something separate from a good user experience and something that you should approach separately or should be given a separate level of priority. I think you can’t create a good user experience without considering web accessibility. I think it’s part and parcel of user experience.

Vasilis van Gemert

Well, for me the reason why I’m into accessibility is suddenly I found out that the web, actually one of its core principles, is that it’s there for everybody. I think that’s an incredible principle that’s fantastic. I mean that’s not common to many other media out there. I mean a book for instance … Well, you have to have eyes to read a book. I found that fascinating that we can make stuff that’s accessible for everybody. Just the reason that it’s possible is more than enough reason for me to try and achieve that every time you make something.

Arthur Gouveia

I always like to refer to the whole quote from Tim Berners-Lee. Like the whole aspect of the biggest thing on web is to make sure that it is accessible no matter what sort of limitations one may have. Actually set up abilities. So, I just feel that accessibility on the web is just making sure we don’t break something that is already there by nature. It’s very easy for us to simply, like, go and, you know, go dive into the next framework or the next technique, or make sites super beautiful with CSS and lots of Javascript interactions and completely forget that it may not work for people with different set of abilities. So all in all, I just feel that accessibility on the web is making sure that really no matter how you interact with your computer, your devices, you’re gonna be able to get access to whatever information or features you’re looking for.

Makoto Ueki

I’d say web accessibility is that web content is accessible and usable for everyone who is using the web. Many people has been told that web accessibility means that people with disabilities can’t use the web. That’s true and that’s not wrong, but I believe web accessibility is more than that. Web accessibility benefits everyone who is using the web. Accessibility is one of the essential aspects for better user experience.

Billy Gregory

I love telling this story whenever I do my training. I think I define it really as just being able to talk to my friends. Being able to … I guess, being able to stay in contact. And giving people the same opportunities that everyone else has. Levelling the playing field, I guess is the best term. We have this weird definition of what is accessible, and what it means to different people.

My buddy Johnny Taylor, abled access on Twitter, summed it up the best once. We were chatting at a camp a few years ago, and everyone’s like “What’s the definition of done? When do we know that something’s accessible?” All this. And we were all trying to give these long-winded answers to make ourselves sound smarter than the next person, and Johnny just kind of looked at us and laughed, and then we asked him what he thought the definition of it was. He just looked up, he said, “I know something’s accessible when I can use it.” And to me, that was an eye-opener. I realized that it’s just really about making everything usable to everyone.

So for me, that’s my definition. I don’t worry about laws, I don’t worry about regulations, I just worry about whether or not my friends can stay in touch with me and do all the same things that I can do.

Carie Fisher

I think of web accessibility as making everything on the website available to people of all kinds of disabilities. That could be the extreme things like a screen reader, or other assistive technologies. But it’s also for people who are on the spectrum of, maybe they don’t think that they have a disability, but they have maybe diminished eyesight or hearing, and that they would benefit from accessible components and pieces to your website. I don’t like to think of disabilities in a narrow sense. I like to think of it that we all could benefit from accessible websites.

Jeffrey Zeldman

I would go back to web standards principles like progressive enhancement which say, the web is genius because it allows everyone access to content and to interactivity. And I would say that an accessible site is one that allows anyone, regardless of native physical ability, regardless of temporary physical ability, regardless of device used, or browser, or phone used, to access content. Doesn’t mean they have an identical experience. Obviously someone who can’t hear isn’t going to hear, someone who can’t see isn’t going to see. Someone using a really old browser may have a simplified layout. But everyone can get to the content, everyone can do what the website promises to let them do. Because basically we’ve had interactivity since HTML1. Right?

You could always check a box, and you could always make something happen by clicking a link or by doing something that triggered an activity on the server. So I think now the struggle, for me, not in what I do because I know how to make accessible standards compliant websites. We have a person on our team, Robert Jolly, who makes sure everything is compliant. And we design with that in mind from the get go so we’re not retrofitting anything. Which again, people complain that it’s too expensive because they’re trying to retrofit and that’s like saying, “It’s too hard to make a toaster because I just built this jet plane, and how am I going to turn it into a toaster?” And you’re like, “Yeah.” But if you start with the toaster, it’s pretty easy to make a toaster. So I think what it means to me is just not wanting to exclude anyone. Which also means not wanting to exclude any device.

To the absolute highest extent of that is feasible. And you’re making something that is wonderful for everyone also. Because I don’t think like a crummy experience. Like giving text descriptions that are really bare bones, on something that’s really rich for sighted people, probably not the way to go. Probably spend some time writing good captions. Writing good alt text because you spent time on the illustration. But I feel like we’re back to square one in some strange way because there’s so many people, Airbnb being just one example, there’s a million examples where they’re like, “We’re just doing this for Google,” or “We’re just do … You have to have JavaScript.” And they … And it’s not that most people’s browsers don’t support JavaScript, of course they do. And it’s not that most people turn off JavaScript. They mostly don’t. But once you say, “You need to have this thing or it doesn’t work at all,” you’re excluding people.

So I come at a from a … Well I come at it from two points of view. One is as a craftsperson. I’m trying to craft the best site I can, so I want it to work for everyone. Just out of professional pride. I would feel bad and stupid if it just didn’t work. And then, from a humanitarian point of view because I think to tell someone, “No you’re not welcome here …” I mean that’s a whites only fountain we had in America in the 19 … Well until the 1960s. And some people would like to go back to that time. But I would not. The idea that you tell one group of people, “Yeah, you know we don’t really care about you,” or “You’re not welcome here,” that’s wrong. That’s wrong. And I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been fighting this fight for a long time and I get tired.

Andrea Skeries

I think it’s just making sure that everyone can access the fabulousness of the world wide web. Not only today, but well into the future, as we as human beings age, but also as technology advances. It’s really based on web standards and best practices, and thorough user testing.

Jon Gibbins

I guess making sure that services and products are accessible to the people whatever their ability. I mean for me, it probably sounds a bit cliché these days but it’s just good practice, accessibility is just good design. Good development technique, just good work. But yeah, accessibility is a state where disabled people can consume and participate online, and the disability doesn’t matter at that point. And that’s where I think everyone in our field is trying to get to.

Kris Anne Kinney

To me, web accessibility is just the very basic ability for anyone to get on a computer and buy something that they want or do the research on a topic that they need, or find out services that are available for them in their areas, or for their children in their areas. Accessibility isn’t … To me, it’s also usability, being able to use a site, to understand the information and know that it’s being conveyed in a clear manner.

Glenda Sims

My definition really comes from Sharron Rush at Knowbility and that is when people regardless of abilities or disabilities can get to and use the same information and functionality. It’s as simple as that.

Jamie Knight

I’d define it in terms of what the activity of my team is. So the purpose of the BBC UX&D, which is user experience and design accessibility team, is to ensure that the apps, products, and services of the BBC do not disable our audience. It’s not that we work for audiences or audience members with a disability. Our job is to make sure that our digital environments are not disabling, and they are usable for everybody.

Lainey Feingold

I always struggle with how to start with that very question, what is web accessibility? So I usually say that web accessibility is about the ability of everyone including disabled people to interact with content on the web. And by interact, I mean find the content, read the content, do what it is to be done with content, fill out forms, or people talk a lot about captioning and audio description for movies, but I find that a lot of times if a site isn’t coded well, you can’t even find the player. You can’t even turn on the sound.

Eric Eggert

I think the simplest definition is the best, and that’s making the web accessible for people who have a disability, and disability in the widest sense. If it is a temporary impairment, or just holding children as many people do, or being distracted, it’s basically casting the wide net, but in the core it’s about making the web work for people who need additional accommodations, or who just are better to … I probably should start that sentence again.

Jason Scott

To me, web accessibility … Well, I should say, if I wanna refine that point, when I say, “Web accessibility is the acknowledgement of the non-self,” I think acknowledgement of the non-self is the first step towards implementing accessibility. That if you think of it as merely some box to tick on a page, that you’re doing it because you don’t know why.” It would be like if somebody said, “Hey, look there has to be something red. There has to be a read square on each page.” And you said, “Oh, oh … Okay.” And you might even be funny about it. You might even make the red square huge or make it small or whatever because you have no idea why you’re doing it. It’s just some thing you have to do.

And if accessibility is just listed as, “Yeah, you have to have a text version,” that’s when you get the weird, what feels like bootleg DVD subtitle level work. Because it’s like, “Oh, no body understands what they’re doing.” It’s the first step to say, “No, you’re doing this because your audience is human beings. And human beings have a larger set of requirements than it just works for you on your own box and the way you interact with it.” That’s the first step. And then setting it up so you can keep expanding what humans need as much as you can. So more refined, that’s where I’m coming from with it.

But in terms of the idea of web accessibility to me, is I think it’s more like engineering the work you do with an acknowledgement that it will need to be interpreted in ways you can’t currently fathom and to, as well as you can, make the information, the core information that you are working on, as transferrable as possible and as portable as possible so that as you become aware of these new avenues, you are able to quickly, easily expand on them and maintain them with the same level of quality as everything else that you’re doing.

And then there’s ways to mess that up on every level, right? As you’ve tweeted and everything else. It’s perfectly possible for people to just completely go, “Yeah, we did it. We once made a blind accessible site.” And you go, “That’s nice. It looks like all the documents on it are six months out of date.” And the answer is, “Oh yeah, no that’s because hired Marjorie for three weeks. And she wrote everything. And now she’s gone.” We get like, “Oh. Oh no. That’s not gonna work.” And them being like, “This is so hard.” I’m sure that’s what the meetings are like at some point. Someone just goes, “This is so hard.” And it’s like, “It’s not as hard as it is for the guy trying to understand exactly what this picture is of.”

Sharron Rush

I think it’s pretty straight forward. Web accessibility means that people of all abilities can get the same information and perform the same functions on the web or web applications.

Margaret Staples

I think probably the reason people have such a broad variety of impressions about what it is, is that accessibility isn’t going to be the same thing for everybody. I think web accessibility is all about making the content as easy to access as possible, regardless of the interface. Obviously, some people use screen readers, and how you format the data in the page will determine whether or not it is accessible to a screen reader. But there are also people that have various kinds of color blindness or light blindness, so things like contrast and color choices play into that.

I personally have a really hard time with movement in, like articles that have embedded gifs can be really, really difficult for me, or videos that automatically play in a page. I will do anything to try and scroll the movement off the page, so that I can read the article because it’s really difficult for … I have a little bit of ADD, and so it can be really difficult for me to concentrate on text if there’s something moving in the page.

So it can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people. I remember when the web was new and awful. All of the colors were wrong, and everything was flashing gifs, and it was just atrocious, and so it was actually really, really easy to make things more accessible just by taking out the “new hotness,” which was almost always just atrocious. And honestly, I think that is probably how my commitment to web accessibility has remained, is every time just inherently suspicious of whatever the new hotness in design is.

Like I remember when … Oh, what was it? What are they called? Carousels. Carousels became the thing in design for however long, however many years ago. I was like, “Okay, I am suspicious of this. I’m going to dig in and find out what you need to do to a carousel in order to make it accessible for people that do not have what is considered standard visual consumption.

And I found out that there’s nothing you can do to a carousel to make it accessible. I was like, “Exactly.” So honestly some of my greatest “contributions” to accessibility have merely been, being suspicious of new hotness and refusing to put things into sites that become obvious with like the very lightest level of research to be huge, horrific barriers to large portions of the population.

I think one of the ways in which we’re probably in a better place now then we were in the past when it comes to conversations about web accessibility, is I think big producers are starting to get on board with the fact that there’s a huge portion of the population around the globe that do not and can not access the most beautiful cutting edge hardware, and they are only going to be able to access your content on a 10 year old smart phone. I think that fact is actually getting a foot in the door on accessibility conversations that weren’t there before, and I’m very happy about that because everybody just designing for the nicest, elitist, MacBook Pro that their designer happens to have, is not actually going to create a web that anyone else can use.

Val Head

I think web accessibility is about making the web usable for the widest range of people. And I realize the definition probably sounds a little bit influenced by the current talk about inclusive design, but that’s how I like to think about it. It’s like opening up the web to as many people as possible.

Elie Sloïm

When you talk about web accessibility, it’s directly related to web content accessibility guidelines that are the main standards when we just talk about people with disabilities. And, we’re talking also about content because web content accessibility guidelines are all about content. When we talk about web quality, we talk about content, we talk about people with disabilities, but we also talk about the whole experience, which doesn’t … who requires good contents, but not only good contents. It requires a global experience around contents and services. This is one main difference with this vision WCAG gives us.

The second difference is that, when we talk about web quality, we don’t look especially about what happens to people with disabilities. We just try to understand directly, what people need, and what we have to do, to ensure that everybody access the web, the contents, and also the services.

So, this is the two main difference. Quality is about people with disabilities, but quality is about people, and about their whole experience.

Laura Kalbag

I define web accessibility as making the web available to as many people as possible, regardless of accessibility, particularly, disabilities, but various needs associated with accessibility. But I like to also think of that as being framed as part of inclusive design, which is making the web available to as many people as possible in the fairest way possible.

Bri Norton

I ask a lot of these questions too in presentations that I make. It’s one of the first questions I ask, what does web accessibility mean to you? You’re right, there are a lot of different answers to that. I think mine is more around access for everyone, no matter their circumstances or environment. Just making sure that there’s, whatever I’m helping to build digitally or anything in that kind of space in my current role, that we consider everyone that will need to access that service or product.

Eric Meyer

I define it as getting the most information available to the most number of people, the greatest number of people. So, if that means, making it so that screen readers are happier with your content so that people who use screen readers can get all of your content. That’s web accessibility. If it means not relying on Javascript as much as possible so that as much of what you’re trying to get to people comes through. Even if they don’t have Javascript, that’s accessibility. Keeping your bandwidth consumption low so that people in low bandwidth situations, that’s accessibility.  The web was fundamentally designed to be accessible, in as many contexts as possible. So, that how I design web accessibility, it’s just, can the person who is trying to get your stuff, get it? If they can, it’s accessible and if they can’t then it’s not.

Nicolas Steenhout

It means building systems that are usable without frustration for everybody. Regardless of their level of ability. So it’s really about making sure that obviously people with disabilities, all disabilities are able to use a site or an app but it’s also about inclusion and making sure that everybody has the same access. I don’t care if somebody is, has a cognitive disability and needs language that’s easier to understand or maybe pictograms or if somebody is a speaker of a language so English is their third language and they actually are benefiting from simpler language or pictograms … those two for me are just about as important as one another. Obviously, accessibility is primarily to make sure that people with disabilities can access content but I think that we can’t just focus on that because the impact of what we do goes well beyond the 20 percent or so of people with disabilities that are in our society.

Becky Gibson

I define it as the ability of anyone to be able to access resources on the web anywhere at any time. So I think that broadens a little, from just saying that it has to be somebody with a disability. I think it takes into what we in the industry refer to as situational disabilities. You know, when you’re in your car, when you’ve broken your arm. So inclusion is a hot word these days but it definitely is including everybody.

Jen Simmons

To me, accessibility is about the recognition that every human isn’t identical to every other human. That– like sometimes I think about it this way … if– we have this idea of their being parallel universes, right? This quantum physics pop culture version where “oh there’s parallel universes and things are slightly different” so let’s imagine a parallel universe where humans have four arms and four hands instead of two and in that world if you were the one person with two hands instead of having four hands … it would be really weird because everything about that world will have been designed assuming that humans have four hands. So the way kitchens are set up, the way computers work, the way that everything is set up. It’s like, people have four hands and there you are a person with two hands. And that’s not the only way to see disability but it’s one way to see disability. That there’s just far more variation in human beings than what “normal” defines. And so this idea that, well, you’re supposed to use two hands on your keyboard, you’re supposed to use a mouse, you’re supposed to be able to see the whole screen … that’s like, assuming that everybody has four hands in this parallel universe. And, why? Like there’s no … there’s no reason for that and so to me, making websites considering accessibility is about understanding that not everybody has two hands. Many people just have one. Not everybody can use a keyboard, not everybody can use a mouse. Like, not everybody’s bodies are made the same way and that’s just considering– I’m just talking about physical things. But of course, accessibility is much more than a physical variation on a human body.

John Tubbs

Since I work in an instructional environment the need to provide equal access to instruction materials is the crucial part. What am I going to be able to provide with my team with the platforms that we have to work within. Sometimes we don’t get to choose those platforms. What can we do to make the students success equal across the board for anybody abled or disabled? Where do we have to adapt? What do we have to adapt? Methods we have to use. The intersection of the technologies that may help or hinder. The development of these assistive technologies or alternative content. The interesting part about where I’ve been going in the past couple of years because I said I was in MOOCs. The Massive Open Online Courses, we have over half a million learners. In our MOOCs at Illinois right now through the Coursera platform. And because of that, we don’t have any idea who those learners are. We don’t know what they bring to the table for any assistive needs or any alternative format needs. So we have to provide things that are … I don’t want to say generic but I think the better term is truly universal design. We don’t have the ability or the knowledge of how to make a specific accommodation. And that makes it … there’s some difficulty to that but at the same time, we’ve sort of looked at that as an advantage because it forces us to make universal content that we know will work in as many places as possible. So, unlike, I guess what has been traditionally done in the higher education environment which is a student comes in with a letter of accommodation and we provide what we need to provide to make that student successful. Now we don’t get that letter of accommodation from, probably fifty thousand learners in our MOOC’s that have some sort of disability. So we have to rely upon good universal content as well as the good qualities of that learner to be able to consume that content. So they have to bring their own skills, their own needs, their own methods to the table.

Eric Bailey

I think accessibility is good design, and good design is accessible. And I know that’s kind of like a tautology, but it’s … It kind of gets into the whole inclusive design mindset, where you should be proactively considering these things, as opposed to fixing them in post. So, it’s, you know, in my mind it’s a holistic practice, that kind of affects every aspect of what we do as app and web makers. I don’t know. It’s strange to me to kind of like keep it in this little box off to the side.

Marcy Sutton

I mean it’s really starting with inclusive design to try and create websites and digital products that work for more people including people with disabilities. I think when I got into it I came as a developer and it was sort of like… fix it. Fic it after the fact and after years and years of seeing that really not working I’ve been listening to the folks that say, “shift left and make your design more inclusive and try to make it everybody’s responsibility.” Because developers can’t do it all. Sometimes you’re battling a set of designs that just have accessibility anti patterns built into them, or designed into them. So, I’ve… yeah, to me it’s a holistic practice that involves more than just individual team members. So try to make it… At least I’m trying to make it approachable and really put that positive spin on it even though it is hard and deflating at times but… But because that’s how you bring people on. maybe you don’t highlight the painful points right away but try to highlight the quick wins and the ways that people can stop making progress just by chipping away at it. But I think long-term success for any accessibility initiative It needs to involve your whole team.

Beth Raduenzel

Web accessibility today. I think web accessibility today is just ensuring that the largest number of people possible have the right and the ability to use the internet. I think most people take it for granted. It’s on our phones. It’s on our watches now, and for a lot of people, apps that most people use on a daily basis are not accessible, so all of these little things that help people through their day that would be extremely helpful for other people, they’re not able to use that. I think that’s a shame, really, in today, in 2018. Everyone should have access to the web and to apps and programs that would help them.

Ire Aderinokun

I just think of web accessibility basically like any form of accessibility, and it’s just about access to the platform. In this case, the web to as many people as possible. People tend to focus on specifically people that have disabilities. So how does somebody who is, for example, blind use the web? That’s one of the major things people might think about. But it’s just about making the web or whatever platform we’re talking about, making it easy to access for as many people as possible, including people who might have a disability.

But I always say that accessibility is not only about targeting the people who have a disability. It’s just about increasing access in general, and that might also mean that people who don’t have disability will be able to access the content in a better way or in an easier way as well.

Chris DeMars

I get that question a lot. And I kind of talk about it, touch on it a lot in the talks I give. There is a quote out there I think it’s from the W3 and it says “Web Accessibility is for people that can use the web” for people that can use the web. Or for people with disabilities so they can use the Web. And I don’t really like that quote. To me, Web Accessibility is for everyone. Everybody should be able to have an amazing accessible user experience regardless of disability. That’s what-what that means to me. And I always have like a “Why?” behind it which we can go into that later if you want but there’s always a “Why?” in the method behind the madness but it’s definitely for everybody. You know what I mean. That’s… we’ve gotten to a point where people use the Web almost every single day so we have to make it accessible for them.

Jen Luker

Web accessibility for me is the ability for everyone to use the web. It doesn’t even have to be similar fashions, it just needs to be that they’re capable of using it and developing their own identity and resources and what-not. And them being able to also interact with it in a way that’s meaningful to both the companies and to the users.

Alli Berry

I think it’s allowing people to access content on the internet in the way that they want or need to consume it. Making flexible… making websites flexible enough that they can cater to all needs. Just so that, yeah… it’s important that people can access things in the way that they need to but also thinking about two peoples preferences as well.

Amy Carney

I think that for me it definitely comes down to a design perspective. We’re designing to include people, specifically people with disabilities. And that is based on enabling people with disabilities to access content and web applications online

Liz Jackson

How would I define accessibility as a whole? Increasingly I’m seeing accessibility as one half of disability. I think you need really two parts to have… to kind of achieve whatever it is that you’ve set out to do so you need the access, you need people to be able to do the thing that they’ve set out to do but I think the other half is the culture. And, I really look at the culture through the lens of disability studies and so for me, if we were to look at it in terms of study… How is it… if you wanted to have an all-encompassing background in disability, you would need to have equal parts accessibility and equal parts disability culture so you could comfortably navigate between the two.

Damien Senger

Defining accessibility. Ah, that’s quite funny because it’s what I’m trying to do at my job these days. I’m writing an accessibility policy for the company, so trying to define what we want to achieve for that. For me it’s mainly tied to universal design. So, I really believe in the vision with which the web was created, so I think content accessible to everybody regardless of their specific abilities, so for me, accessibility is just being sure that we’re creating experiences that are exactly the same for everybody regardless if they can use a mouse or not. If they have really good attention span or not, or if they’re just really distracted in their environment.

So yes, I’m really focused on cognitive disabilities. I think it’s maybe one of the most interesting things for me into this part of the job.

Stephanie Walter

Making sure it works for as many users as possible with different disabilities. Also, different context. Like, make sure that you build a website that isn’t going to be an issue for some of your users. So, like, try to not put more fences than there is already in some technologies. Don’t make it worse, because, I think there was this fucking webpage website that was basically a webpage without any CSS, without any Javascript. Just text. And they were like, “yeah this is responsible, usable and accessible “ I’m not… I don’t 100% agree with the usable because since you didn’t have a container the number of characters were line dependent on your browser size. But, still, the idea was to say to people, yeah look, by default whatever you put in the browser is kind of responsive, accessible and we with our technology break that. It is easy to do because it was just so many, like, text. If you start playing around with forms and all of those supercomplex content, of course, it gets a little bit more messy. But, the idea behind was quite interesting, saying okay, we have the tool to build something that works and isn’t broken but sometimes we add some extra layer of whatever technology and we break it. Usually not on purpose.

Jessica Ivins

Sure, so, we kind of see accessibility as a holistic thing. So, we see it as making… this is what our students learn. Our students learn accessibility is about making your design usable and open to as many people as possible. And, we also talk about inclusivity as well. So we talk about inclusion versus accessibility with the students, and we have lots of conversations as they’re very closely related. Almost 2 sides of the same coin. Inclusivity is more the principle or the mindset of thinking constantly about how can I make sure that people with a disability or people using a non-conventional device or people in a less than ideal situation can use my content, can use my design, and accomplish what they need to accomplish. And, the accessibility is more like the tactical end. So, that’s more like the implementation. Like, okay, we want somebody blind to be able to use this design so what kind of tactical implementation can we put into the design to make that possible. Where the inclusivity part is more thinking ahead, thinking holistically about how can somebody who is blind or how can somebody who has limited cognitive disability… how can these people use my design and accomplish what they need to accomplish.

Christopher Schmitt

I would probably define it as making… in terms of web, I would define it as making anything you put on the web open to everyone to use.

Amberley Romo

I would define web accessibility as building for the web in ways that ensure it’s usable by everyone. There aren’t barriers to use for anyone. So, I would say it’s about digital equal access, kind of along the same lines as physical equal access. So, just putting people at the center of building for the web.

Emily Lewis

For me, it’s really simple and aligns with my new job with Knowbility. It’s equitable access. Making it possible for anybody to access digital information, digital experiences, commerce communities. All of it. Just making it possible.

Devon Persing

The version I usually teach and, kind of the elevator pitch version, it really depends on who I’m talking to. But in general, I think it’s about making digital spaces inclusive to everyone. And it’s been interesting reading material about inclusive versus universal design or design thinking because they’re kind of the same, but most of the material I’ve read has universal design being kind of like a giant bucket or a giant or a mountain or something very large. Versus inclusive thinking tends to start with the people doing the activities. So I’ve been leaning more towards that framework and being inclusive and kind of centering people in that discussion, which is also a little weird because I come from an information school background. When HCI was still, what we would call UX now I guess human computer interaction. It was very much about teaching humans how to interact with computers versus trying to create digital spaces that are good for people. So I think things have shifted in that direction. So I usually talk about it as being inclusive, creating digital inclusive experiences because I also includes other things like cultural background and other things that impact how people use technology.

Joe Devon

If it’s web accessibility, I would say building websites that are accessible to people with disabilities, keep it as simple as that, but I typically prefer to talk about digital accessibility, which includes all digital products. That would include mobile apps and it would include AR, VR, and the technologies that are coming down the pike that will replace the smartphone before long.


There you have it, a wide variety of ways to define what web accessibility is. Some brief and to the point. Some more complex and nuanced. All takes excellent!