Accessibility Advocate

Being an Accessibility Advocate - and why you should too

Following a post on LinkedIn about side hustles, where, in the comments, I mentioned working on an accessibility workshop. I was asked ‘What’s an accessibility advocate?’ I say it often and had an internal understanding but had never properly thought about defining it for myself or to anyone.

This was the beginning of my reply.

My definition is someone who promotes, talks about and actively brings accessibility into conversations.

That felt about right but I see lots of similarities with other disciplines and their advocates that I wanted to provide some context. A distraction from preparing to deliver my very first accessibility workshop at Sky in Leeds, but a worthwhile one I think.

So I continued;

A bit like security is seen as a pure specialism and scary by some, many see accessibility the same way. For both there is so much we can do.

• Ask if they have been considered early on in the process.

• What strategies are we using?

• Include basic tests in our exploration

Considered at the design stage instead of hard to add items they become design choices and therefore much cheaper. Considered after something is built, they are much more costly!

I was fairly comfortable with my answer now but I couldn’t quite drop the thought. I kept thinking about my immediate reply and was it really deep enough? Did I understand what I wanted to achieve by doing this as well as I assumed I did? Should I, as any good tester would, question my assumptions for a clearer understanding? I came to the conclusion, after some thought, that yes, yes I should question myself. It didn’t take long to identify that it is those things, but there’s more to it.

I make it very clear at the beginning of conversations, talks and even recently in a workshop given at Sky in Leeds and a meetup in Nottingham, that I am in no way an accessibility expert. But that doesn’t mean I can’t teach others what I know, spread the message and amplify others voices in the space. It never ceases to amaze me of the knowledge we take for granted as common place that isn’t widely known. Simple things like adding Alternate Text (Alt-text) to images accessed digitally seem obvious to allow people who need to use screen readers to navigate. But they only become obvious once you consider those users.

Over the last few years I’ve looked at different ways to spread the message.

• Invented a visual heuristic (https://www.thebigtesttheory.com/blog/2019/5/13/my-first-experiences-with-accessibility-testing).

• Shared information.

• Been a co-host of an accessibility power hour (https://club.ministryoftesting.com/t/power-hour-accessibility-testing/26064) on the Ministry of Testing Club.

• Created a quiz I believe is unique (and so far very well received) and that I’m still improving. It is deliberately very visual, as that is the target audience, but I want to make sure non-visual people can also take part by providing a fully accessible version online. Although I suspect they know most if not all of the answers already!

The next stage is developing a longer workshop to help people to conduct a basic accessibility audit of their own sites and apps. Learning this will allow those attending to have those conversations up front and (hopefully) influence the design. Essentially, I’m hoping to inspire others to become accessibility advocates themselves. I have an hour and a half workshop already and am close to submitting a half day workshop to conferences. So watch out for it coming to a conference near you soon. I’m also considering offering this to companies in house covering my time and expenses e.g. less about making a profit and more around spreading the message.

The next logical question is why? What makes someone want to be an accessibility advocate? Personal experience? Or just that it’s the right thing to do. While it is the right thing to do the best explanation I can give comes from someone else.

Four-time U.S. Paralympic medallist Tucker Dupree used to do a lot of public speaking during his competitive swimming days. His talks would often challenge the audience to think differently about people with disabilities.

I’d always open my speech with, ‘As a person with a disability, I belong to one of the largest minorities in the world, and on top of that, it’s a minority that anyone in this room can become a part of at any point in their life. You can acquire a physical disability at any point in your life, and disability comes in every culture and in every colour…’

One thing I hold to be true in everything I’ve learned is that the general perception that Accessibility = Disability is not quite correct. In the majority of cases, things that affect people with disabilities can equally affect people without. While it is important of the people with, Accessibility is more about Inclusion so becomes wider than just conformance to the guidelines.

So overall while I’m happy with my contribution although I know it is only a drop in the ocean and it needs more to convince those with the power that this is something we have to do. No easy task but I feel, a worthwhile pursuit.

Near the end of writing this blog post, WebAIM published their re-analysis of the top one million web home pages which can be found at this locations, https://webaim.org/projects/million/update

They categorise errors as;

Errors are accessibility issues that are automatically detectable via WAVE, have notable end user impact, and are likely WCAG 2 conformance failures.

The other reason everyone should be accessibility advocates is what they found. A 98% failure rate. And that’s only based on automatically detectable errors! We can and should do better, but only if we look for and call out these issues.