So you’ve been publicly accessibility-shamed

By admin
There were

two
CARDINAL

times in my career where I’ve been publicly shamed over accessibility. The

first
ORDINAL

was at

one
CARDINAL

of the

first
ORDINAL

conferences I ever attended and the keynote speaker shit-talked my open source project on the main stage. Oof. The

second
ORDINAL

was when I worked on a high profile website, a well-known accessibility company wrote a big “Do Better”-style post and outlined a myriad of accessibility errors which found its way to the legal department which came back around to me. Bigger oof. These were frustrating experiences, particularly the latter, because we had tried to do a good job and despite all those good intentions failed.

Could those critics have been nicer? Sure, that would have bruised my ego less. But disabled people and accessibility advocates don’t owe it to me or to anyone to be nice. If you couldn’t use

7
CARDINAL

out of the top

15
CARDINAL

e-commerce sites, you’d lose patience too. While tech often deflects on issues of ethics, accessibility faces that responsibility head on. To put it another way, accessibility is design and development with a built-in moral compass. So if an accessibility expert comes across as an asshole, I now assume it’s saltiness built up from

years
DATE

of exhaustion answering the same bullshit questions over and over like “Do blind people really matter?”… Ugh.

If you’ve been publicly shamed for anything, what matters most is how you respond next. You can double-down on defensiveness and self-preservation (the wrong answer) or you can approach it with a growth mindset and funnel that energy in a positive direction. I attempted to do the latter with my shame and frustration. I made

the A11Y Project
ORG

because of my own ignorance and difficulty finding up-to-date, easy-to-understand, and forgiving accessibility knowledge. If there’s

one
CARDINAL

thing I believe it’s that most web developers aren’t going to be accessibility experts, but all developers need a working knowledge of accessibility. And the data shows, we’re all making mistakes.

Speaking of mistakes, it wasn’t long until I was publicly shamed a

third
ORDINAL

time. In

the days
DATE

after the launch of

the A11Y Project
ORG

our credibility got questioned because we had posted an article on how to use accesskey in HTML, which is a bad technique because it swallows a lot of screen reader shortcuts. It wasn’t obvious a feature of HTML would have such a drawback. The sardonic comments lobbied to discredit our fledgling project hoping to raise developer awareness were disheartening. Rather than retreat and become some

Joker
PRODUCT

-style

Batman
PRODUCT

villain, we pulled down the post and issued a correction. Thankfully, this experience fit within our ethos of keeping accessibility information up-to-date. I had expected corrections, just not so soon.

Recently, a popular company released a new product that uses AI to rapidly generate “production grade” front-end

UI
ORG

code. There were –as any human familiar with the basics of accessibility could have predicted– glaring and obvious accessibility errors in the code produced by the

AI
ORG

. While the company was receptive to the feedback, there was a gross sideshow of ableist backlash from that product’s community; a toxicity that I hope gets publicly addressed. I don’t support AI-assisted ableism, but I understand this company’s predicament. You make something cool, want to share it with the world (and stakeholders), but it exposed a lack of internal culture for prioritizing accessible experiences.

“Why can’t I just make cool shit?” is certainly a vibe and if you’re making it for you and your friends… sure? But when you have influence in an ecosystem, Spider-man style “great responsibility” starts coming into play. As cool as any technology may be, we need to be sure we’re not rapidly generating inequality at scale.

I hope I’ve leveled up over

the years
DATE

to never experience another accessibility-shaming… but I’m certain it will happen again. Despite what I know, I still find creating end-to-end accessible experiences difficult. It’s difficult to hold the galaxies of nuance inside my distracted

30-watt
QUANTITY

brain. My intuition on the subject dissipates as I float between responsibilities. After

nearly thirty years
DATE

of making websites –despite being someone who cares deeply– I’m more confident in my ability to produce an inaccessible experience than an accessible one. It’s why I will advocate until the grave that making good accessible websites needs to be easier.

The title of this post is a riff on (one of my favorite authors)

Jon Ronson
PERSON

’s book

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
WORK_OF_ART

which is absolutely worth a read if you haven’t read it.