The Lantern - News about Lighthouse

Is accessibility required?

Thu, 18 May 2017 by Chuck Lorenz & Mike Fox

Today, Thursday May 18th, is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This year marks the sixth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access/inclusion and people with different disabilities.

To help spark the conversation about the subject of accessibility we wanted to share an awesome blog post, from Adapt Learning, titled "Is accessibility required?" written by Chuck Lorenz, a friend of Lighthouse. We also want to share a response to the post written by Mike Fox, a software developer at Lighthouse Works.

Head on over to Adapt Learning and read "Is accessibility required?" then you can check out Mike Fox's response post below. We hope you enjoys the reading and learn something new!

Image link to Is Accessibility Required? blog post• Is Accessibility Required?

• Response to: Is Accessibility Required? - by Mike Fox

From a developer perspective, I can understand why people ask "is accessibility required". This is because (a) most of the tools and frameworks they use were not built with accessibility in mind, and (b) most developers don't have the knowledge to implement it correctly themselves. In my experience this is true regardless of operating system or programming language. I've done presentations on accessibility at developer meetups, and found that most programmers are interested in making their software accessible, but few know how. So when it comes to business-type questions, like estimated timelines or cost, it's important to know if it will be necessary to do all the research, testing, debugging etc. to make sure the finished product is accessible.

But by asking, "is accessibility desirable", we're changing our mentality completely. Rather than being a requirement imposed on us by the law or the client, accessibility is a given. We "just know" it's an important part of the project. And if that's our mindset when starting a project, we should be lead to ask questions like "What assistive technologies are used on ?", "How do I test my app for accessibility?", "Are there any tools for creating accessible content in ?", etc. (not necessarily to the client, but to ourselves and Google). As a result, more developers would become knowledgeable about accessibility, which could lead to more tools being developed with accessibility in mind.

Then there's the issue of usability, which has gotten less attention than accessibility, but is equally important (if not more so). For example, a common component of many forms these days is the "date picker", a text box with a button that opens a calendar. The calendar may be accessible (that is, a user can access its contents) but using it with a screen reader can be a real pain. So most developers, if asked about these widgets, would probably respond, "oh, screen reader users can just type it" – and most screen reader users will do so. So it's technically accessible, but the point of building a custom component like this is so users don't have to "just type it"! Typing it leads to formatting errors, which leads to re-typing it, and the user experience is just not as good. This is a classic example of accessibility vs. usability.

Changing the question from "is accessibility required" to "is accessibility desirable" helps in this area as well. It gets us thinking, "how can I improve the user experience in other ways?" Going back to the date picker example, I can think of several ways, most of them keyboard shortcuts. Maybe Up/Down Arrow could move back/forward one month, and Left/Right could move back/forward one day. I saw one piece of software that used letter keys (like "t" would set it to "today", etc.), and another that used the arrow keys in a different way. This accomplishes the same goals as the calendar in my opinion: it makes entering a date faster, easier to use, and harder to mess up, than "just typing it". If more of us start thinking like that, our software will be easier to use, and often more efficient – not just for screen reader users, but for everyone.