WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

The Web Accessibility Game Plan

“Do We Need To Change the Web Accessibility Game Plan” (inspired by this blog entry) was the title of a panel session I moderated this week at the CSUN conference. The panel consisted of Sandi Wassmer, John Foliot, and Jennison Asuncion. When I proposed and organized the panel, I did not anticipate being outnumbered by three Canadians, nor did I anticipate the amazing discussion and energy that would result. It was nerve-racking to manage the passionate conversation, especially in front of so many of my highly respected mentors and peers.

As the session began, we established a #gameplan hashtag. My Twitter stream exploded with over 300 tweets during and shortly after the hour-long panel. Below are many of the tweets (some have been trimmed) that capture just a few of the thoughts and messages of the conversation.

joshueoconnor: I didn’t know there was a gameplan, maybe discuss what it is before we discuss changing it?

CharJTF: Most of us think that web #a11y will be better in 5 years. (We’re hopeful.)

kelsmith: “We have their attention, it’s now a matter of conveying the message appropriately.” @Jennison

IanPouncey: Accessibility is at an all time high when it comes to awareness

LeonieWatson: We’ve progressed from the “why?” of accessibility, to the “how?”.

LeonieWatson: Our accessibility challenge is trying to keep up with the latest cool innovations.

kelsmith: Importance of keeping #a11y in front of innovation curve – need some way to bind that to commercialization plans.

GlendaWH: Talking about web accessibility as inclusive gains more buy in. Should we rephrase it as “web inclusivity” to increase awareness?

joshueoconnor: It’s important to change the way a11y is perceived by showing positive benefits. Making it easier to do will help.

joshueoconnor: On the spec level #a11y is hard to do. Small coteries of ‘expert opinion’, coupled with bad science doesn’t help

IanPouncey: Everyone involved in web development needs to understand their role in accessibility.

blurrry: How do we get accessibility to be included into the usability courses in college curriculum?

BitPlayer: “Right thing to do” works until the budget or time are short.

dboudreau: I feel we’ve already started changing our #gameplan by infiltrating other larger conferences that initially didn’t care about #a11y

rlambert27: The “how” must also be driven by #educating the designers/coders to integrate #a11y at the start of projects, not an afterthought

kelsmith: doesn’t even use the word “accessibility” anymore to clients. I prefer “barrier-free” or “inclusive.”

joshueoconnor: #a11y going from a semantic famine to a feast with HTML5/ARIA etc but UIs have 2 be easy to author not more complex.

Nethermind: When talking to marketers, connect to them using their brand promise, sell inclusivity.

dboudreau: I hate the idea of stopping using “accessibility” for other terms, like we had to be ashamed of it for some reason

Christiane: Oh no, he said the c-word – certification.

rlambert27: I don’t think the #a11y image has a problem, I think the people relate #a11y to more costs which isn’t true when done properly!

dboudreau: It’s our job to shed some positive light on it. It’s simple. Our problem is we’re passionate & passion scares people.

dboudreau: What if our problem was those a11y advocates that are way too dogmatic and not pragmatic enough?

IanPouncey: Accessibility needs to be communicated to non-specialists in a clear and united way to avoid confusion.

joshueoconnor: #a11y is often just a by product of good design (both w code and UI). Good design principles is the 101

Nethermind: “What is good enough? Good enough is when we don’t leave anyone behind.”

yenra: I cringe when software vendors use our disagreement as an excuse to do nothing.

SteveBuell: accessibility is often defined as “available” Need to redef as platform/ability agnostic.

scenariogirl: I would argue any Usability Expert without Accessibility expertise is not a Usability “Expert”

IanPouncey: Why isn’t ‘accessibility’ not a profession in the same way that ‘usability’ is?

jbailey: Do those who advocate network security get asked for white papers?

dboudreau: @jbailey No, but security is based on fear. a11y can be based on fear too, when it comes to lawsuits. Not our most positive option.

kelsmith: Accessibility is not independent of UX, nor a subset. Accessibility *is* UX.

yenra: Lawyer in audience: “the Law has an image problem. But it’s a civil right. We should not shy away!”

IanPouncey: Accessibility is a civil right, the legal system is how civil rights are protected. Is the legal approach effective?

jbailey: Legal consequences are frequently considered a calculated risk.

LeonieWatson: We need to educate, regulate and legislate for #a11y.

v: You can sell #a11y all day in a #gameplan, but if business needs of Web products are not addressed then advocacy stays in vacuums.

yenra: European audience member: physical space #a11y strong in U.S. (really good), Web should be as strong.

kelsmith: agrees with @Jennison – we need to graduate technologists and UX folks who have base #a11y chops.

goodwitch: laws are a very different motivator than #humanrights. Laws are cold, #a11y as a human right is intrinsically motivating

dboudreau: I really don’t get the problem. We have a different speech, based on who we speak to. Pragmatism is key.

yenra: 1 day we won’t need an #a11y expert in isolation but rather simply seek a developer who as a norm knows #a11y

Nethermind: Know your #a11y research empirically – Jim Tobias

yenra: “Let’s model on the environmental movement which is still a movement but has professions & disciplines & sciences too”

copious: A call from johnfoliot: “We’re a tribe here. We’ve got each others back. I challenge you all to be a little disruptive.”

SteveBuell: A bit disappionted no call for #harmonization among all players in #a11y #gameplan #csun11 descended into #advocacy not #solutions

dboudreau: @SteveBuell At this stage we were still in the process of looking at our own collective belly button. We need to take a step back.

SteveBuell: @dboudreau I’ll be brutally honest. I don’t think we should hire people who lack #a11y knowledge.

dboudreau: @SteveBuell Sure but what can you do? If #a11y was a hiring requirement then we’d have a serious issue – not enough skilled people

And one particular tweet that I think sums up the panel discussion, the infiltration of a newer, younger audience to CSUN, and our efforts at changing the web accessibility game plan…

jbailey: One theme of #csun11 is transition. The old guard is meeting the new. And the future looks very bright indeed!

One thing that was established in the conversation was that while we are making great effort, much more needs to be done – we do need to change the web accessibility game plan. So I invite you to continue the discussion below and elsewhere. I do ask, however, that we focus not on the problems, but on solutions and ways we can make the field of web accessibility more effective and mainstream.


  1. Bill Shackleton

    The only reference I see (so far) on this page to persons with disabilities is in the tag line under the WebAIM logo. Yet they are exactly the point (yes I know that web accessibility is more usable for everyone else, good for SOA, creates higher quality products & technology, and has all kinds of other side-benefits). I have seen too many times accessibility descend into technical dogma, or trying to sell mainstream on its side benefits ad nauseam… as if we feel the need to apologize for it. We often confuse our means with our ends. The end isn’t some sort of technical elegance mana from heaven. It’s enabling the individual with disabilities (REGARDLESS of the type, number or complexity that s/he happens to experience) with the ability interact with the Internet (including the web) the way that everyone else can and does.

    I have spent almost 30 years in this field (first getting into the accessibility of the web in particular in the mid-90s). I have seen, and have myself tried, various changes in the ‘game plan’ (we need more awareness, more tools, more elegant technologies, senior management buy-in, better standards, more mainstreaming, vendor buy-in, networked-based accessibility, even, during one long stint in the Canadian Government’s CIO, Enterprise Architecture…). Yes, yes, yes, they are all helpful, however in my humble opinion and experience I’ve never seen real action and implementation like I’ve seen when law is involved… and I’ve never seen the kind of quality that is required like when individuals with disabilities are involved.

    The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities now lays down the (International) law (see Article 9) and many countries (including mine and yours) have ratified it. (By the way, organizations representing persons with various disabilities were represented in a way never before seen!). You should see the shakeup that is now happening within the Canadian Public Service thanks both to this and the Donna Jodhan case. Despite the many, many backslides that I’ve seen, I am now the most optimistic than I’ve been in a long time – especially with the coming of age of a new generation that just ‘gets it’ in a way that most in my generation doesn’t.

    Now that amazing momentum has been created with the kind of legal push never before seen, and that people are finally beginning to rally around a common cause and approach, let’s pause, peruse the longer perspective, and think before jumping into changing horses in (beyond!) midstream.

  2. James Pepper

    I developed a means of making PDF files and forms speak all of the content in languages all over the world including Hindi using NVDA. I came at this approach from the perspective of the blind as I had tunnel vision for 11 years.

    To be declared blind in the United States is a very fine definition and so most of the blind are not legally blind and cannot afford JAWS and even if they get JAWS the cost of it is taken out of their medicaid payments as income and so people cannot afford the accessibility standard that you all cling to, you are only helping those who are fortunate enough to get a copy of that software.

    In 2008 I made the National Voter Registration form for the US to be accessible to the blind using conventional techniques in PDF accessibility. I made it so the blind could fill out the form all by themselves without any assistance using free screen readers and it was presented to the Elections Assistance Commission by Jim Dickson the Vice President of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). But the EAC developed their JAWS only form which was partially accessible and since most of the content was not readable there was no meeting of the minds, there is no contract.

    Once trial lawyers realize that accessibility is only for the fortunate and that most government documents are not accessible to the blind, they will be able to challenge every decision of every agency. The use of JAWS to fill out the Voter Registration Form is a Poll Tax according to the Voting Rights Division of the ACLU.

    Relying on the demo of JAWS is not going to cut it, it expires and there is not enough time to fill out forms with the demo.

    There is a false sense of accessibility, a legal definition of accessibility that has nothing to do with actual blind people accessing content. You can meet the definitions of legal accessibility and yet the document is completely useless to the blind. Another words this is Jim Crow! Plessy Versus Ferguson. Apartheid!

    Real accessibility where people get all of the content delivered to them is extremely rare and getting people to make this content is even rarer. Not only do you have to be an expert in computing but you have to know what the blind require.

    So I devised a means where ordinary people can lay out content accessible to the blind without special knowledge in accessibility, because if we leave this only to the experts, then we will be stuck in the mess we are today, limited amount of content accessible to a very few who are fortunate enough to be delcared disabled by the government.

    To give you an idea of how barbaric the definition of blindness has become, I know of a person who had his eye center removed from his brain due to brain cancer and yet the government insists that this person is sighted because he is an engineer and is employed. The government says he has “sight” because his eyes are intact and technically the eyes work; it does not matter that his brain cannot process the information, he can see and so the government sued this man for the benefits he received.

    This is the real world of accessibility. People cannot afford JAWS. The definition of accessibility should be redefined as actually being accessible to a blind person, where all of the content is accessible using free software in languages all over the world.

    People will still buy JAWS, it is excellent for people who have a lot of money or can get it for free from the government but until you recognize the reality of the world and that most people do not have access to content then this problem will not be solved!

  3. Cliff Tyllick

    While I understand the struggle for terms that will work better, I think we would do better by keeping the terminology consistent. For a variety of reasons, people are starting to understand what accessibility is and why it’s important. For example, a number of us at South by Southwest marveled at how many new faces were in the accessibility panels — in some cases, so many that the more experienced of us felt compelled to give our seats up to others. We’re certainly well beyond the point of needing to be there just to convince others that many people are interested in accessibility.

    Yes, it’s a mouthful — but people are starting to get it. In line for the closing party for South by Southwest Interactive, I was chatting with the person next to me in line. When I mentioned that part of my work involved accessibility, this complete stranger, whose work is in film, not the Web, knew exactly what I meant. That’s anecdotal evidence, but I really think it means we’re on the right track. Keep the vocabulary the same, because people are finally getting it.

    But what else can we do to gain traction? Well, how about adding another phrase to our mantra? You know, where we usually end our explanation of why people should make their information accessible because “it’s the right thing to do”?

    Let’s add, “Because when your information is accessible, it will work better for you.”

    And by that I mean that, even if you are as cold-hearted as they come, you can’t deny that accessible information is far easier to find, repurpose, reformat, and reuse.

    If you aren’t making your information accessible, you’re wasting time and money, and you’re missing out on opportunities galore. If I were posting this elsewhere, I would add specific examples, but I know you already get it.

    My point is that we can make more progress faster if we show others not the obstacles they have will overcome by doing things the accessible way but the advantages they will gain when they do.

    Yes, making your information resources accessible conforms with standards. Yes, in many jurisdictions it’s the law. Yes, it’s the right thing to do.

    But you know what else? If your information resources aren’t accessible, they can’t do their best work for you. So if you are so cynical and parsimonious that you can’t make your information accessible for any other reason, then do it for this one: It’s in your own best interest.

    That message will work. Let’s use it.

  4. Jim Tobias

    If we really want to know if “web accessibility will be better or worse in 5 years”, we should spend some time identifying the metrics by which we will know if it’s better or worse. The more those metrics are like “can a visitor achieve the goal that brought them to the site?” than “does this image have a useful alt?”, the more valuable the metric is (and the harder it will be to measure). We need more longitudinal studies of the accessibility of websites, especially “important” ones such as major govt. and commerce sites. (Right now we only seem to have 2 studies, one from Greece and one from UWash, both of which are cause for pessimism).

  5. James Pepper

    Cliff, I can make all of the PDF forms and documents for the Japanese recovery fully accessible to Voiceover on the Mac so we can make talking documents to help the people in Japan because when you are tired and distraught, finding information is difficult. So here is a practical demonstration of accessibility helping people and I am trying to find people at Apple to show them what I can do!

    The NFB tested it in English. it works for free screen readers. When I disovered it worked in Hindi, then I realized it would work for languages all over the world.

    This would be very helpful for field workers in Japan, who are attending the victims because they do not need a JAWS only computer to distribute information. They can use their computers for other purposes and distribute accessible content to the people on the ground. Accessibility settings usually disable other programs.

    I can teach ordinary people without special training in accessibility to lay out this content very quickly because I found that one of the main problems of accessibility is that it is very exclusive, only experts can lay out the current standards, so I made it so that anyone can do it.

    And of course this process works in English and Spanish and there really is no excuse not to make accessible content in Spanish. I don’t understand why there is a reluctance to make the extra step of accessibility in government agencies.

    We cannot wait for people to discover accessibility is a good idea, we have to create practical solutions now to help people all over the world! If you know anyone who can help me with this I would appreciate it!

    James Pepper

  6. Catherine Roy

    @ Cliff : +1 on first part of your comment, regarding terminology and message finally starting to get through (btw, +1-ning someone is a big deal for me). As for the rest, I understand why but still, I respectfully disagree with this means to an end approach. But we can talk about it if you like.

  7. cptvitamin

    I agree with @Bill on this one. We can’t leave it up to profit driven entities to make accessibility a top priority. Litigation impacts their bottom line and there is no fear from litigation without well defined rules and regulations. The passing of laws is great, but I think we can all take a lesson from Canada’s initiative to fund/sponser the creation of tools like WET – The Web Experience Toolkit to make compliance with the law easier (and less costly) for organizations who still can’t/won’t justify the additional expenses associated with making their content accessible.

  8. Cynthia Jones

    I agree there should be free or low cost accessible software for the blind. Deaf persons are afforded TTY services at no additional cost via communications venue so therefore the accessibility to the world wide web and use of other technological divices utilized in business should be more cost effective to all who need access.

    Alleged Microsoft Sam was never inteded to be text to speech software and the use of Adobe Read Out Loud was a promising aspect, however most organzations refuse to allow pdf transmission of documents as they do not allow computers to read the content vs word style products.

    As a blind user I can assure you that only receiving 808 dollars per month in SSDI and continued lack of access to employment due to restrictions associated with the use of online recruitment portals who are no more than data mining and eliminating is something that should be outlawed.