We had the privilege and the honour of accessibility engineer and bona fide internet royalty Léonie Watson second on the bill for Digital Gaggle. I’m not going to give you a play by play of her movie-reference-infused, delicately controlled diatribe about incorporating accessibility into the web – you can explore the minutiae of her talk when the videos go live (and maybe then you'll understand the reasoning behind this blog title). Instead, I’m going to share with you a few choice takeaways that made an impression on me, and my own fledgling experiences with accessibility in the month prior.
A lot of people out there don’t think about accessibility when navigating the web. A lot of people out there don’t know about accessibility and the web full stop. Those people, myself until recently among them, would have started this paragraph with “Most people out there…”
There are more internet users that rely on accessibility considerations in the U.S. than there are internet users in Canada. A jaw dropping stat that stuck in my head, which really throws light on the misconception that because I don’t use a screen reader (and don’t know anyone that does) people that do must be really rare. They’re not.
There is another compelling argument for making accessibility considerations on your web properties and services: the attention to structure, flow of content, and structured data that often goes hand in hand with accessibility is also really, really helpful for your search engine spiders. In the business of SEO, the better the search engine spiders understand your website, the more detail they can get about the information they’re indexing - the better.
So, rather than beat you over the head with reasons why you should do it, here are a few tips and starting points.
Ask for forgiveness, not permission. If you pass the buck and ask your boss whether he minds if you spend some time developing accessibility considerations, the chances are it won’t happen.
Don’t try to go from 0 – 100 overnight. Pick your battles and make the little changes wherever you can.
Unplug your mouse. Try navigating your website with a keyboard and in 5 minutes, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how navigable your existing website is, and no doubt come across a myriad of small quirks and obstacles that would be beyond frustrating if this was your only option for navigation.
Download a screen reader. This is like unplugging your mouse on hard mode. When I tried this, I found that while ChromeVox was happy enough to tab through our navigation menu, forms and footer, it really did not want to focus on (and subsequently read) the actual content of the page! Oh no! It’s not exactly perfect now, but it’s better than it was! See tip #1
Tabindex=”0”> Protip for the above – the tabindex attribute. In an ideal world, you’d take accessibility into consideration at the design stage, thinking about the flow of elements down the page and numbering them in order with the tab index attribute. More likely though, is that you’ll use “0” which will force the issue and at least make the element focusable with a keyboard.
Skip to main content. You’ll quickly realise that in order to have a screen reader read a page’s content, you have to tab through every single entry in your website's behemoth megamenu…and again every time you load a new page. A hidden “skip to main content” link, focusable by keyboard, allows you to jump past all that and get straight to the page proper.
Go look at a government website. For all their faults, they have guidelines for all manner of ease of use considerations, from variable text sizes, to allowances for colour blindness.
Keep digging. This is by no means a comprehensive primer for accessibility – I too am a beginner in this world. Go out there and do a little reading, find out what you can start doing to make the web a more accessible place.