Web accessibility: It begins at your front door

Hello there. I’d like to inaugurate this as a space to reflect on accessibility and inclusion. I write from the lens of a woman who is researching and designing for the web every day, but always bringing my own experience with disability to the table. And I know that what happens on the internet and off have everything to do with each other.

If you are thinking about web accessibility as an issue confined to your screen, I invite you to take a step back from your computer. Way back. All the way back to your front door.

Too often designers and developers view accessibility as a mere checklist or a set of standards to be met. I frequently observe an intense focus on conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While the WCAG have created a common standard that improve the web experience for many users with disabilities, they also fail to push technologists to ask bigger questions about disability and access in our products and our industry. They excuse us from examining who can get through the door and contribute to the work we’re doing. I want to use this space to change that conversation.

Consider: Are your working and convening in spaces that are physically accessible? Can individuals who use mobility devices literally come in and navigate your environment?

Are people with different kinds of abilities and disabilities contributing to your work? You may not even be sure. The more people you have on your team who have their own lived experience with disability, the more people who will be raising questions around whether your technology serves different users.

But to do this, you need a hiring process, work environment and benefits that make it possible for disabled individuals to feel safe and empowered to come work for you. This is why scheduling, health care and similar issues are all related to accessibility. For example, flexible sick time, high-quality health insurance and other benefits are all part of creating an accessible workplace, because they allow people with disabilities to take care of themselves.

Day to day, accessible technology is built in an environment where people with differing abilities have the opportunity to thrive and speak their needs without fear, with a promise of mutual understanding and respect. Once this foundation is in place we can determine which accessibility standards we want to meet on projects.

But we’ll also have the kinds of people in the room who are dreaming bigger and bolder about what “accessible technology” means, beyond where standards alone could ever take us.