A11yAdvent Day 1: What is Accessibility?

I thought we would start this calendar by talking about what is accessibility. There is a common belief in the web industry that accessibility is only about blind users. While it certainly involves blind people, it also encompasses way more than that.

I thought we would start this calendar by talking about what is accessibility. There is a common belief in the web industry that accessibility is only about blind users. While it certainly involves blind people, it also encompasses way more than that.

The idea behind accessibility is to provide equal access to content to everyone, regardless of who they are or how they browse the web. Indeed, universal access to information and communication technologies is considered a basic human right by the United Nations.

In other words, providing accessible interfaces and content is about considering everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, or the context in which they access content. Practically speaking, we can draw 5 large categories of impairments:

  • Visual: this ranges from poor eyesight, to colour-blindness, from cloudiness to complete blindness, from fatigue to cataract. The web being a platform primarily consumed with the eyes, a lot of technology improvements have been made in that regard, and that is why accessibility is sometimes thought to be solely about accommodating towards blind users.

  • Motor: motor impairments, when it comes to the web, are usually considering solely upper-limbs disabilities, so nothing below the belt. There are a wide range of reasons for someone to have limited mobility, such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrom, arthritis broken hand or arm, skin condition, hand tremor, Parkinson disease or more commonly, having only one hand free.

  • Cognitive: cognitive impairments is a broad and practically endless category because brains are complicated pieces of machinery and everyone is different. Some example could include dyslexia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHA), amnesia, insomnia, vestibular disorder (motion sickness), anxiety, dementia…

  • Auditive: while not originally too considered when the web was designed as an essentially all-text media, auditive impairments are more relevant than ever in this day and age where a lot of content is provided through videos and podcasts. They include but are not limited to being hard-of-hearing (HoH), in a loud environment or completely deaf.

  • Vocal: vocal impediments range from benign (and sometimes temporary) situations such as having soar throat or a foreign accent, to more serious conditions like stutter or mutism. Because the web is seldom interacted with solely through oral interfaces, this category tends to be left out.

As you can see, there are so many things to consider. It may be daunting, but it’s also the beauty of our job as designers and frontend developers. We get to work for everyone. I don’t know about you, but I find it inspiring. ✨


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