Check out a free preview of the full Website Accessibility, v2 course:
The "Curb Cut Effect and Q&A" Lesson is part of the full, Website Accessibility, v2 course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Jon discusses the curb cut effect and how it can similarly be applied to web accessibility. The Curb-Cut Effect is when and investment in one group of people cascades to improve broader well-being. Student's questions regarding what point in the software lifecycle should accessibility be thought about and if adding accessibility helps with SEO are also covered in this segment.

Get Unlimited Access Now

Transcript from the "Curb Cut Effect and Q&A" Lesson

[00:00:00]
>> I wanted to cover this thing called the curb cut effect, which is something that I'm kinda fascinated with and I hope I don't get the details wrong, but it's a kind of an anecdotal story that I really like. So it's back in Berkeley, California, I think in the 1950s, and so a little bit before that, I think in the 1940s, laws had started being passed throughout the United States saying that buildings and a lot of parks and recreation places needed to meet some sort of accessibility standard, right.

[00:00:30] They needed to have ramps and rails and certain access for certain things. It'd become really great, but at the time when you're out and about on the street and the sidewalks, it didn't apply there. And so pretty much across the entire country at the time curbs did not have ramps like we know them to have today, they just had drop offs.

[00:00:49] I mean you still see that some places, a curb will just kind of end instead of having a nice ramp. And so this disability rights advocate in Berkeley, and I'm trying to remember exactly what he did, but I think he went out on his wheelchair with cement and just dumped cement on a curb somewhere in Berkeley so that it became a ramp.

[00:01:08] And it was this free speech, this expressive movement where he was like, I'm just sick of not being able to use this curb because people in a wheelchair can't just, or it's a giant jump down and it's very difficult to get up. So he does this thing and it gets all this publicity, should he be arrested, was it illegal, all these different things.

[00:01:27] And ends up spawning this movement of more and more folks start doing this, kinda going out and adding these ramps of some sort, either pouring cement or setting up a ramp or whatever. And this really interesting thing happens, it starts off as this very particular disability rights movement, wheelchair users wanting ramps so they can get around.

[00:01:45] And what folks all over the country started observing is how many people start using these ramps. And so you're seeing all these parents pushing strollers, bicyclists, skateboarders, workers pushing heavy equipment on wheels. All these people start immensely benefiting from this thing, and it spreads like wildfire, and these ramps, these curb cutting ramps, take off all over the country and eventually become the absolute standard.

[00:02:09] And the kinda anecdote there, what the curb cut effect is is that often times if not all the time, when you build something to make your application, your site or whatever you're working on, easier for people with disabilities, you almost always end up making it a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable for everyone to use.

[00:02:27] We see this in the physical world, we see this in the digital world. These things that get put up for folks with disabilities, ramps, railing, keyboard shortcuts, better structured HTML, all of these things that start off one way, end up really benefiting everybody. So I think that's a very cool effect that I've seen firsthand a lot of times where I'll build something, an accessibility feature, and then I'll often hear about folks that just are power users of the website getting a big kick out of it.

[00:02:54] At what point in the software lifecycle should you be thinking about accessibility in individual design, in development, things like that? That's great, I think the best case scenario is thinking about different things at different points. And so, for example, at Adobe I would often during the design phase, there are certain things that I would push back on.

[00:03:15] Like, hey, this experience is gonna be really tough for people with disabilities to use, is it important, is it worth it? Is it worth the effort that's gonna go into making it accessible or is it something that we can kind of do without? Other things too, like making sure the designs are well spaced, like buttons are well spaced apart so folks without perfect dexterity can easily target them and things like that.

[00:03:39] So there's some things for sure design considerations, and if nothing else, trying to be aware of what will be a development consideration and bringing that up early. And then during the development stage, I think, yeah, it's absolutely vital. I think maybe multiple passes. There's a lot of stuff that should just be foundational that we'll cover today, like using the right HTML elements or things to avoid or where you should add certain ARIA labels which we'll get int.

[00:04:05] And then there's other things too, which is maybe after you've built it you really wanna get in there and try it or do some real user testing. And so I think maybe a three phased approach, bring up a lot of main concerns during the design phase for during the initial development build, build it with accessibility in mind.

[00:04:23] And then always have some time for accessibility testing, much in the same way you would do QA testing, have some accessibility testing to make sure that the things work as expected. Does adding accessibility information help with SEO? It's really interesting, so some things absolutely. So one thing that we're gonna cover in the next section is using semantic HTML properly.

[00:04:44] And things like that, a well structured page with well structured headings and the proper tags, can absolutely help your site vitals, your health, things like that. On the other hand, there's one area where we fight, where accessibility engineers and SEO engineers disagree. So that would be, and we'll cover this, that would be image alternative text.

[00:05:04] So SEO users see the alternative text as a great chance to keyword stuff for the keywords that they want to rank for. So cheap student loans or something like that, regardless of what the picture is. The picture could be a cat or a kid graduating college and they'll say cheap student loans.

[00:05:20] And accessibility engineers know that that text is the only signal that non-sighted users will get from screen readers, and so they really want it to be descriptive, so kid graduating college. So yes and no I guess is the answer. In some ways, absolutely aligned, in one particular way, absolutely on kinda opposite sides.

[00:05:40] And that comes Google starting to crawl images and look at that text for a signal. And so then SEO folks kinda jumping on that and being like, let's jam all of our keywords into that and hope that we rank higher for that.