I’m an accessibility consultant. Stop hiring me.

January 14, 2016

Topics: Accessibility, Web Development.

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I call myself an accessibility consultant when I’m not building WordPress plug-ins. But in all reality, you should stop hiring accessibility consultants. The work is awful, and nobody wants to do it.

Seriously – the work is awful. I mean that. Building accessible web sites and applications? That’s awesome. Training you and your team on what’s involved in creating an accessible resource? Also awesome. Creating tools that help you identify or fix accessibility issues? Really, seriously awesome.

Diving into that godawful website that you need to get rebuilt in the next six months because you’re being sued? No, that’s really not much fun.

David Sloan observed that the profile of accessibility is an exercise in evaluation and repair. That’s sadly true – and is one of the main reasons that accessibility struggles. When your primary role is to come in and tell people what they’ve done wrong, you’re always going to be viewed to some degree as the villain. It doesn’t matter how nicely you put it – you’re ultimately telling somebody that they did this wrong, and they have to fix it.

(Reading the whole thread referenced in that Tweet is worth while. Only takes a minute; I’ll still be here.)

Isn’t it much better to be taught how to create an accessible web site early on? Education and training are the only really meaningful routes to improving the overall picture of web accessibility in the world.

There will always be a need for accessibility evaluation tools, automated testing, and specialist consultants. It’s not reasonable to expect everybody who develops web sites to be an expert in the concerns of all types of disabilities and assistive technology. What it is reasonable to expect is that a web developer is an expert at using HTML – and if we’re going to be absolutely honest, 95% of problems with web sites come from improper use of HTML.

Using practical and semantic HTML answers a huge percentage of accessibility issues.

Today, I was reviewing a web site and I saw a toggle that expanded a search form. The toggle used the ARIA attribute “haspopup”.

However, the toggle was built using an a element, and didn’t include an href attribute. As a result, it really didn’t matter that the developer added ARIA – this control isn’t natively keyboard accessible.

That’s a misunderstanding of what the native focusable elements are in HTML. The native focusable elements are buttons, inputs (of all types), and links. Links. Not the a element, but links. The only difference is in the presence of an href attribute. If the a element has a hyperlink reference, then it’s a link. If it doesn’t, it’s an anchor, and doesn’t receive focus in the tab order.

Do you build web sites?If so, you should have already known that, and you shouldn’t need an accessibility consultant to tell you.

Are you looking to build a web site? Don’t look for a web accessibility consultant to review the site. Find a web accessibility trainer to teach your web developer about accessibility best practices.

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4 Comments to “I’m an accessibility consultant. Stop hiring me.”

  1. Seems pretty relevant to post your rant on my rant. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. As an accessibility consultant, I couldn’t agree more. It makes so much more sense to train the developers how to design accessibly and also to train all of their content editors how to prevent breaking that lovely new accessible website. We would much prefer to see accessibility become a part of the lifecycle of the website rather than a tack-on week at the end with everyone chomping at the bit wanting to release the website for that flashy new launch. They seldom allow sufficient time to fix things before the launch, and these are things that should have been avoided in the first place if they hired consultants to train their staff properly. Rant over…

  3. Thanks, Marco – it is an amazingly frustrating experience to put hundreds of hours into understanding assistive technology and human computer interactions, but spend so much of my consulting time telling people how to use HTML correctly. I don’t have any information about how web development is actually taught in school, but it sure feels, sometimes, like it’s all based on pulling from some external framework (whether that’s a hot JS framework or a CMS) before you actually start to work, rather than starting from the basics.

  4. Thanks for this, Joe! It brilliantly captures what I’ve been saying in my article “Web Accessibility Basics”, too. And believe it or not, even in the end of 2015, that article became second most viewed one on my blog for that year, only the one about ARIA dialogs, written in January or February, had more. As if I was teaching people a whole new world of things, even though most of them were in HTML prior to version 4.0 already. And I still don’t get it. I mean… HOW is web development taught at schools/universities these days? Are all tutorials on getting started with HTML now referencing “include Angular, Ember or whatever the current hot JS framework is”, and that does everything for you? I cannot, and actually refuse to believe that this is the case. The web can’t have retarded that badly!