Use the arrow keys to navigate between menu items.

Old conversations aren't helping

3 minutes read

I started professionally with accessibility sometime in 2021. I was aware of accessibility before then, having done a few things here and there, but I never considered myself an accessibility person. I just really loved the front-end and design and I never thought I'd do anything else with my life.

I won't sit here and tell you that something was missing, because there wasn't. For me at least, it was always design, code, test, ship. Rinse and repeat. And I always felt that I was doing enough.

To be honest, I rarely paid attention to all the chatter around accessibility back then. I always thought most of the comments were very harsh and some downright mean, albeit well-intentioned. It seemed like people got really tired of saying the same things again and again and then they'd get mad when it seemed no one was listening.

Add alt text! Use semantic elements! Don't use ARIA! Use ARIA! Accessibility is easy! Accessibility is hard! Shift left! Shift left sooner!

Sound familiar? It should! Because the conversation hasn't changed since then! Not a lot anyway. You would think that all the screaming, all the moaning and all that left-shifting would have yielded some results.

If all that negative feedback were so useful, we'd have had our shit together by now. But we don't. Actually, between 2019 and 2023, all that tearing others down has gotten us is a measly 1.5% improvement in homepages where no WCAG error can be automatically detected, according to the WebAIM million.

So maybe it's time we change the conversation. Because the old conversations don't give us the results we want. "We don't have disabled customers," "it's not my job" and "we can't, it's too hard" are a refuge to fallback to and easily defend.

The problem with old conversations is that they lead to old actions. What should I start with, how do I shift left and whose job is it are all still valid questions. And it's not that these questions haven't been answered already. It's the staleness of these discussions that drains our energy.

What we want are at least new excuses. "We don't have disabled customers yet," "it's not my job, but I can help if" and "yes we can and."

So we change the conversation. Through struggle, through discomfort, through getting yelled at instead of us yelling at them and through having discussions that people have not had before. Maybe we do it through giving up control, instead of trying to hog more of it.

Ok, what do we change the conversation to?

I don't know. I don't jump before I look. And looking isn't always about the answer. It's this process of searching that gives me hope, because it's unknown territory. And the surprise of the unknown will likely lead to change.

And boy do we need that. Because a change in action is usually preceded by a change in conversation.

Did you enjoy this bite-sized message?

I send out short emails like this every day to help you gain a fresh perspective on accessibility and understand it without the jargon, so you can build more robust products that everyone can use, including people with disabilities.

You can unsubscribe in one click and I will never share your email address.