This weekend on Twitter, I got into an
argument discussion with someone about whether or not accessibility is always required when building websites and apps.
Today, I wanted to unpack some presumptions and misunderstandings about accessibility, and what our job as web professionals is.
tl;dr: Yes, it is.
Disabilities aren’t static, and neither are people
The first point the person I was chatting with made was…
I wouldn’t say every web app needs to be ‘accessible’, because maybe it’s meant for certain people/organizations.
This is simply objectively wrong. Disabilities aren’t static. People in organizations aren’t, either.
The team you’re building an app for today might change tomorrow. Someone who has no disabilities today might break an arm and be unable to use a keyboard. Their vision or hearing may fail as they age.
And not all disabilities are obvious, apparent, or disclosed… nor do they need to be.
The disabled community is not a monolith
Over the last week, I’ve had a lot of conversations about accessibility that have focused around people who can’t see: in particular, the idea that certain things just can’t work for people who are visually impaired.
Yes, people who are blind can play video games. They can use maps. They can read books. They can do anything they damn want to unless you build things that stop them from doing so.
And while screen reader support is an important part of accessibility, it’s far from the only one.
Does your website or app uses colors to indicate different types of interactions? How does that look to people who are colorblind (colorblindness does not typically mean “sees the world in black and white,” by the way)?
What if the person using the thing you made gets motion sick. Can they disable animations so that they can use it effectively?
Can a person who has neuromuscular conditions that make using a mouse or tapping tiny buttons impossible still navigate around? Does it support keyboard interactions? Are the tap targets big and easy to hit?
Even for two people with a particular condition, their needs, wants, and ways of navigating the web may be different.
The disabled community is not a monolith.
Accessibility is literally your job
Another argument this person made was…
It should be the “consumer”‘s job to adapt the solution to their problem.
Nope, this is ableist bullshit.
As is this…
I was referring to the case where the app does not need to be “accessible”, because it’s not required from the client.
In many countries around the world, accessibility is a legal requirement. It’s quite literally your job—your professional obligation—to build website and web apps that are accessible.
It doesn’t matter if the client “requires” it or not. It doesn’t matter if you think the organization needs it or not. The stuff we build needs to be accessible just like it needs to work in a browser. It goes without saying.
You’re not always going to do it right. Humans are fallible. We mess up.
Even highly trained professionals with years of schooling, like lawyers and doctors, mess up. That’s why malpractice insurance is a thing.
But if you’re not willing to learn, to try, to give a damn? You’re not a web developer. You’re a hobbyist just messing around.