How to avoid being an accessibility grinch

Christmas cakes in all colors, on of them is decorated as Grinch's face

Maybe accessibility doesn’t come from a store. Maybe accessibility perhaps means just a little bit more?

In this holiday season, here are a few notes on how not to be “Grinch-like” in your accessibility activities.

Accessibility isn’t a feature, it’s a feeling

There are times and places where accessibility managers will be backed into a corner and be forced to use the argument “Accessibility is a compliance issue”. The problem with the “compliance” approach is as soon as the people enforcing the compliance stop looking, it is likely that behavior will return to the previous normal which is “accessibility isn’t as important as features”.

When product teams have empathy for the users who need accessibility, they are much more likely to keep accessibility in mind when designing, coding and testing.

It is unrealistic to expect that people will magically become accessibility experts without education and support

If that were true, there would be a WHOLE lot more of us out there. True accessibility expertise comes from:

  • Participants who are passionate about equality and people with disabilities. Many accessibility experts have one or more disabilities, though that isn’t a requirement.
  • People who avail themselves of the gift of accessibility training which then leads to certification
  • Not making accessibility testing a dumping ground for failed UI developers and QA engineers

Accessibility is never “one and done”

Once a doc/app/website is accessible, the next step is to go into accessibility maintenance mode

  • When code gets added or modified, it still needs to be accessible
  • When content gets added or modified, it still needs to be accessible

Accessibility when you are in maintenance mode does not happen through holiday magic. This happens by baking accessibility training and review into all content / code creation and maintenance processes. By failing to continue reviews after something is born (or made) accessible, you are all but guaranteeing that the digital property will backslide into being inaccessible.

It’s not about how much money you spend, but the quality of the effort

Low-budget accessibility is possible. Free tools and training are available, but you have to make the time and the commitment to take advantage of them. You can spend tens or even hundreds of thousands on an automated tool, and still be missing the majority of accessibility issues, which can only be found via manual testing.

Don’t fall into Jack Bergman’s trap that “There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over.” And you REALLY don’t want to be in a position of having to do it over under the pressure and scrutiny of a lawsuit. The cost-benefit analysis of improving your product’s accessibility vs. wasting money on a lawsuit and having the organization’s reputation damaged is a no-brainer. Accessibility is worth investing in, even if you only have a small amount of money or time.

Listen to every member of the accessibility team

Just like Cindy Lou Who, the quiet people on an accessibility team frequently have the most important things to say. If you’ve staffed your accessibility team correctly, at least a few of the individuals will have one or more disabilities. Some people with disabilities do not like calling attention to themselves. Some disabilities involve communications issues as well. When you are new to starting an accessibility effort, sometimes the news is bad, and people are afraid to share bad news. Don’t shoot the messenger. Encouraging all accessibility stakeholders to speak up is a very important part of avoiding being an accessibility grinch.

And what happened then? Well, in accessibility-ville they say

That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

I wish happy accessible holidays to all, and I will return with more accessibility musings in 2020!

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