Top resources for understanding digital accessibility
This post is just a small selection of some of the resources we have found useful to learn from as we work. The resources here have been only been included if they are up to date, well-presented, and have something distinctive and constructive to say. We’ve divided the resources into five categories:
- Inspiring introductions
- The nitty-gritty: official & detailed references
- Real life problems – and solutions
- Tips, testing and tools
- The lighter side of accessibility
1. Inspiring introductions
These are some general pieces written on accessibility that provide a great overview and contemporary perspectives from key writers.
Paul Boag suggests that the word ‘accessibility’ has misleading connotations, and suggests thinking in terms of ‘inclusive design’ instead. Read his piece and see what you think! We think the inclusive design philosophy is a really helpful one. But we probably won’t stop using the term accessibility, as for us this encompasses a wider set of issues beyond web design and UX, such as access to equipment and connectivity.
Laura Kalbag: Planning for Accessibility (Nov 2017)
Laura makes the case for managers and decision-makers in any organisation to incorporate accessibility from the start of a project (especially a digital project such as a website – but the principle applies more generally too). As she puts it: “Accessibility isn’t a line item in an estimate or a budget—it’s an underlying practice that affects every aspect of a project.” See also Beth Raduenzel’s thorough piece on building a team to tackle accessibility problems across your organisation.
Anne argues that in thinking about accessibility in terms of the specific needs of certain groups of users, we risk reducing people to stereotypes or making assumptions about their needs. This is quite a demanding viewpoint but it is well worth considering. There are particular features of assistive software such as text-to-speech tools which designers and developers should be aware of. But we should also be aware of the danger of becoming too caught up in assumptions about groups of users.
2. The nitty-gritty. Official and detailed references
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 are pretty formidable to deal with, though the principles are clear enough. This tool provides a more user-friendly interface for designers to follow the Guidelines. See also: Alan Dalton’s mid-length review of the key aspects of WCAG 2.0.
Although not an official web standard, the BBC has a very thorough and easy to navigate set of their own design and accessibility standards that may be useful as a complement to the WCAG.
3. Real life problems – and solutions
This is a good summary of accessibility obstacles as experienced by disabled people, based on responses to a tweet by Safia Abdalla that asked the question “I’m curious to know: if you have a disability, what’s the hardest thing about browsing the web?”
Also from Hampus at Axess Lab. Real-world examples of how developers have made improvements to the accessibility of websites. See also: Eric Eggert on The Accessibility Mindset for more real-world design patterns that begin by thinking in terms of maximising accessibility, and the Accessibility Wins tumblr site that celebrates accessibility improvements, whether large or small.
4.Tips, testing and tools
Alastair is the Director of Accessibility at Nomensa and here he lays out the importance of testing the accessibility of your digital product throughout the development process, not just at the end. Testing should be carried out involving users as well as automated testing tools.
He also makes the point that the W3C standards for accessibility include standards for those creating authoring tools and content management systems, not just for website designers. For example, WordPress has a team of committed people working on accessibility, and strong policies on making their tools support maximum accessibility, such as by producing well-structured pages by default.
Just one example of a really nice tool for testing accessibility — in this case, checking colour contrast ratios. There are several other colour contrast checkers out there that offer similar functionality. For general automated accessibility testing of your website, try Tenon.io or SortSite from Powermapper. These tools will indicate any instances where the website code appears not to meet the W3C standards, and give some information about how the errors can be fixed.
5. The lighter side of accessibility
Haiku for Global Accessibility Awareness Day by Dey Alexander for 4 Syllables (May 2014)
Exploring the significance of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines via a collection of thoughtful haiku! See also: their collection of web content haiku.
Adrian Roselli: Accessible Emoji, Tweaked (Dec 2016)
Adrian Roselli, following up on a post by Léonie Watson, looks at how emoji can be made fully accessible not just to screen readers but to a whole range of clients across platforms, which might otherwise not make the emoji legible. Still a serious issue — but we liked the light-hearted way Adrian wrote about it!