Check out a free preview of the full Web App Accessibility (feat. React) course

The "Introduction" Lesson is part of the full, Web App Accessibility (feat. React) course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Marcy Sutton Todd begins the course by sharing how she became interested in accessibility. She discusses areas of accessibility and the cost of having inaccessible content. A core principle of accessibility is ensuring all people, regardless of ability, can interact with the information or services provided by a website.


Transcript from the "Introduction" Lesson

>> Welcome, today, we're here to talk about accessibility. I'm Marcy Sutton Todd, and I am so excited to share what I know about web accessibility with you. I wanted to tell a quick story about how I got into accessibility, because we're recording this course here in Minneapolis. You're probably watching it from wherever you are in the world, but I got into accessibility kind of because of Minneapolis.

Target is here, big retailer in the United States, and I worked at an agency that had Target as a client. As a front-end developer, I was assigned to work on that client on all those projects. I didn't know anything about accessibility. Nothing, I had made all of the common faux pas, right?

The code I wrote was a lot of action script before that. So I didn't know anything about accessibility, but I learned that I really cared about it. The more I learned about accessibility and how I could work it into my front-end code and design, and all the things we'll learn about today, I really started to care about it.

And once I met people with disabilities who would benefit from the work that we could do together on web accessibility, it just clicked for me. It's something that I've never been able to turn off in my mind, I'm always asking about it in people's code reviews and design reviews, and all of that.

And that's my hope for you is that it will click. And be inviting, cuz we don't know everything. I can't even possibly cover everything today, but I can share with you a process of learning and understanding of accessibility. Where to go to learn more and some of the basic things that as professional front-end developers, so that's my goal for today.

So what is accessibility? It really is ensuring that people can use the experiences that we build regardless of their physical ability, mental ability. That they can interact with these services and products that we're putting out on the web. It also means that people can contribute to the web.

So if we're making authoring tools or, I mean, a lot of services that we're building these days are things we use in the workplace, HR software, banking software. I mean, all of those things are really important to be accessible, right? So this topic can apply to so many different things.

And I think sometimes organizations get that. It starts to get real muddy when it's less of a clear requirement. In agencies where you can kind of ship stuff without anyone really holding you accountable, I think we can do better, though. I work in an agency now, too, again, and it's great, but the requirements are a little bit more loose.

And so sometimes we really have to be the champions within our workplaces to get people to understand the cost of what not doing accessibility would mean. So the cost, really, to kind of get into that is that someone with a disability wouldn't be able to use your web application or your website.

They might not be able to independently enter their bank details or something. Becomes a privacy issue or a security issue, and so it sort of snowballs into being a bigger cost for those individuals. But those individuals are often marginalized, so that's kinda the heart of what we're getting at, is not marginalizing people who have a disability.

It's kind of a, I don't know, heavy feeling when you really think about it. It's not just edge cases here, these are real people that we're talking about. So it's foundational, and there is a rich history of disability rights and activism to try and make things more accessible.

Here, I have a picture of the Capitol Crawl from the 70s where people physically put their bodies on inaccessible stairways to advocate for accessible spaces. Including the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is a big piece of legislation in the United States that codified a lot of these requirements.

And so people have been fighting for access for decades. And it's really relevant to us now in that we're still pushing for the web to be accessible. We have some benefits of being developers, and that it's a lot easier to rebuild a digital space than a physical space.

So we can incrementally improve things. We can totally tear it down and start over without having to tear it down a physical building. We can make changes to things a little bit easier in a lot of cases, not always. I work on a code base that is not that easy to change.

So it does take some effort and some planning and lots of development cycles, but it can be done. So really recognize that history of activism. That's kind of an important part of it that we shouldn't really remember. And there are so many different types of people in the world that when disability as a topic comes up, we wanna consider all of the different ways that people move through the world.

What are people's bodies? How does that impact how they interact with a computer? If someone has a vision disability, that's kind of the area we hear about the most, with people who use screen readers. So we'll dive way into screen readers in the next section. But vision is one aspect of disability.

Someone could have limited movement if they can't use a mouse, a pointing device. Cognitive disabilities for thinking, remembering, learning, communicating. Hearing, that's a big one for accessibility that's often forgotten, so things like transcripts and closed captions. This workshop will need to be captioned for people to follow along.

And people can have more than one disability. People don't fit neatly into little boxes. And so we wanna consider the broad kind of spectrum of the human experience when it comes to disability, cuz it can affect anyone at any time. So it really affects all of us when you think of it that way, it's not the other person, it's someone else.

It's not my customer, it's not my problem. Well, if you've look a little closer, it probably is. Your co-worker or your customer might have color blindness. They might have diabetes and they're at risk of losing their eyesight. I hear these stories all the time when you ask people and they go, wait, I do have a connection to this.

And so, yeah.
>> I got my eyes dilated yesterday, and as I was sitting there waiting, I was looking at my phone, everything got blurrier and blurrier. And then I left and then I had to do something on my phone and I couldn't read my phone anymore. So I had to pull out the accessibility zoomer [LAUGH] on my phone.

So that type of stuff affected me directly yesterday.
>> Wow, yeah, and your phone has great tools for that.
>> Yeah.
>> My parents have their phones zoomed way in, you look over and their font size is huge. Technology is adaptive, and it's so cool, I mean, bicycles are adaptive.

There's all kinds of things in the world now that we can adapt to make them suit our lived experience more. And the web has so many different things that we can make better. And they're not even that hard, it's just it's stuff that gets marginalized. So I'm here, I'm here to hold your hand.

[LAUGH] And we're gonna do it cuz there's so many easy wins. The most accessibility issues that we see out there in the world are really easy things to fix. So we can be glass half full thinkers, and just go, all right, we've got lots of stuff we can fix, so let's fix it.

Let's build it right from the first time because it's is really adaptive and we can make it work. And I'm pretty optimistic about it. So it's really easy to find accessibility failures out there. And accessibility folks, I love them. I think it's part of the coping mechanism [LAUGH] of dealing with the fact that the web isn't very accessible is to point out the failures and as a group, be like [SOUND] isn't this terrible?

But we need more wins, too. It's like we don't wanna be drowning in misery, we want to highlight our wins. So I encourage you, when you get something that's an improvement even if it's a work-in-progress, celebrate it. Give kudos to your teammates, share things with your teams, share what you've learned if you've got the capacity [LAUGH] to write it down.

Some of the blog posts that I wrote in the past, I'm really glad I wrote them because I captured what I learned at the time. And I just wanna encourage everyone to celebrate your wins. I created a blog a while back called Accessibility Wins that was aimed at doing this.

It got a little hard to maintain because I've always was striving for perfection, and that's just not realistic. We don't need to be perfect, we just need to keep putting in the effort to make things better. And if it takes a number of cycles or iterations on something to get it better and better, I think that's okay.

But we've got some really important reasons to overcome what I'm calling access debt. So we have design debt, we have technical debt, we have access debt. Stuff in our code base. I mean, the design and development are so overlapping in what create these problems, that we've got a unique type of debt that is accessibility debt.

And the reasons that we need to overcome it, the most basic reason, thinking back to the Capitol Crawl and the disability rights and activism, it's a civil right to have access. And that should be enough, that really should be enough of a reason. It's something we've been fighting for for decades, and we really should honor that, it's the right thing to do.

Sometimes that is just lost in translation, and so depending on who you need to convince. Maybe you have some other stakeholders or co-workers or people who just don't care for whatever reason. There's other reasons that we can kinda pull out as a carrot. We have the carrot and the stick way of communicating our reasons why this is important.

The legal issues are a big stick to use. People, depending on what country you're in, you have different laws that make accessibility a requirement. Especially in certain sectors, anything procured by the federal government, education. There's lots of different areas where the legal side applies. It's not my favorite aspect of it but it is part of it.

Sometimes pride in your craft is the way to get through to people, like being pragmatic about quality in your software. And sometimes that can be the angle to get someone sort of selfishly to care about it is that you can make it easier to test. You could make it more robust.

Being able to make your application respond to different user inputs that you haven't even thought of yet. It's just more robust software, and the web is mostly accessible by default, we just have to try not to mess it up. And then there's business cases. If you have to convince the business stakeholders, maybe there's a way to persuade these folks about having a larger customer reach, a risk of losing out on business.

And so, yeah, there's all of these different levers that we can kind of pull to make the case for accessibility, which I do have to say though. As a single interactive developer, UI developer, full stack, wherever your role is, this is a little bit much to try and carry this weight on your back all the time, to be like, I'm doing this work and trying to convince everyone around me to do it.

So I want you to give yourself some grace. That's why accessibility can be sort of draining, but I want to invigorate you to find the things that you can control and that you can change, and we wanna make progress. That's why celebrating those wins is important. We wanna balance all this with getting our job done and upholding quality among all the other things that we have to think about.

I have some links here if you want to learn more about the legal side. There is a link in here about Target's legal case, sort of relevant. It's how I got into accessibility was because of that legal case, so if you wanna read about that.

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