This is no techie article but it does indeed talk about tech.
Don’t expect code blocks below, but I trust I’ll broach some important thinking points. I’m also no definitive expert on the subject, but I have always found the discussed issue to be dramatically important in our ecosystem.
So please bear with me!
Let’s play a game
Imagine if you will that you’re surfing merrily on your favorite handheld device on a warm autumn afternoon. Battery chock-full of energy, 4G (5G even?) pouring kitten photos on your nice 90Hz OLED screen, fluid interface anticipating your every needs.
And all is well.
Now. Now, imagine that the sun suddenly shines through the low-hanging clouds and glares over your screen.
Imagine your ISP decided you did not give them enough kitten-money and throttles your connection.
Imagine it’s now winter and real darn cold. You’re wearing gloves, and the touch-screen doesn’t register your fingers.
You get a notification. But your phone’s vibrator is deactivated. Lucky for you, it does ring. Unlucky for you, you work in a loud factory.
I’m no handicapped person I hear you cry out, slightly worried.
Well, you yourself might not be disabled, but you definitely will be handicapped from time to time, maybe less than others, maybe more, definitely for different reasons.
What of it?
Accessibility isn’t a buzzword or a fad. Accessibility isn’t just another metric or a Lighthouse report entry. Accessibility is actually one of the founding principles of the Internet (and maybe the most important one).
(huge) list of 584 companies supporting Contract for the web
All those guys and girls must sure know what they’re talking about.
And what do we find there first? Right at the top?
Ensure everyone can connect to the internet
And just a bit further?
Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone
Although these two principles are aimed respectively at governments and companies, I do believe that everyone is part of the Web (World-Wide, remember?) and should act accordingly. And it has nothing to do whatsoever with our personal mental and / or physical abilities.
Accessibility is not about handicap. It is not about disability. It is no luxury. It’s the basis of an ever-expanding global network that cannot be allowed to leave anyone behind. It might sound cheesy, overly philosophical or even utopian, but it has direct implications for anyone building (for) the Web and potentially dire repercussions for anyone using it.
- Net neutrality is no joke
- No-one is immune to being handicapped
- Accessibility is a duty of those building tools online
- Accessibility is the standard and not the other way around
- Building accessible platforms means building better platforms tech-wise
- It’s no ethical conundrum, but it is an ethical imperative
Let us dive deeper then.
This one might surprise you, as it’s not commonly associated with handicap, but it might just be as important for this topic. Indeed, as we thrive not to discriminate handicapped users, we also must fight against data discrimination.
If you’re throttled by your ISP, you’re not going to be able to use the Web normally.
Let’s never give up on this one. It affects every single person as independent decentralized internet access is still somewhat of a utopia.
I won’t go into too much details here, as so many much more relevant and informed people are fighting everyday for it.
Do go support them though!
Disability and handicap are two very different concepts. If a disabled person might be handicapped most of the time, a perfectly able person will be handicapped from time to time. As evolved as we may like to think our society is, able-ism is still very present on- and off-line. And it does not stop at too few wheelchair-accessible stores and homes.
It does not stop at allowing visually impaired people to use your website either. In this wonderful diversity of humans all around the
disc globe, everyone has different needs and different ways of consuming the Web. Be it by aid of a screen-reader, by zooming every webpage to 200% or by using a slow reconditioned device inherited from your third sibling. You just can NOT assume everyone is on a broadband connection enabled desktop with a fullHD screen in good lighting conditions.
An example so dumb it might seem trivial is the difference between touch-devices and mouse usage. You just don’t click the way you tap. And the other way round. And you must take both use-cases into account. Especially since the borders between devices seems to be fading (looking at you convertible laptops and stylus phones).
You might rarely see a web developer job offer containing explicit mention of accessibility, but it’s not because it’s not part a of the tasks. It’s because it’s an implicit prerequisite. As a developer, it is your duty to take it into account.
If you love the Web (and I hope you do if you build it) you’re expected to take its philosophy into account. It’s right there in the name : World-Wide Web. World-Wide. Entire populations. The entire population.
It’s often thought that you can build stuff and make it accessible afterwards. That if you find some time at the end of the sprint you might either add aria attributes or enjoy a day off.
Well… NO. If you don’t include it from the ground up, you are discriminating users. And discrimination is bad, m’kay? It’s no quick-win to block people from using your app.
Think about it. If you build stuff right on one aspect, chances are other parts of the system will benefit from it.
Accessibility as a standard helps you build better tech.
Taking time to think about the tabbing index of your page to allow users to navigate it using their keyboard can only improve the zoning and hierarchy of the page.
Taking time to improve the contrast ratios of your UI will improve it’s design.
Taking time to label your actionable elements will also improve the page’s SEO.
Lowering your data payloads for low-bandwidth users will speed up page load for everyone.
It’s win-win on so many levels.
Ethics has always had bad press if any press at all. The trolley problem might spring to mind. Or NBC’s “The good place”. Or even the bible, perhaps?
All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.
Erm… English please?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That’s about it. As a Web-builder, you should create software that treats people ethically. Period. No maybe, no buts, no ifs, you just cannot expect people to use your software in ideal conditions and according to your own plan.
You cannot predict the every use case, nor should you, you can just embrace accessibility as one of the basic building blocks of your app to ensure no one is left behind.
Yes, even you.
 Principles for the web
- “Ensure everyone can connect to the internet”.
- “Keep all of the internet available, all of the time”.
- “Respect and protect people’s fundamental online privacy and data rights”.
- “Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone”.
- “Respect and protect people’s privacy and personal data to build online trust”.
- “Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst”.
- “Be creators and collaborators on the Web”.
- “Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity”.
- “Fight for the Web”.