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Things You Shouldn't Say to a Disabled Person About Why Your App Isn't Accessible

ashleemboyer profile image Ashlee (she/her) Updated on ・2 min read

You can also find this on my blog.

Not that I feel the need to explain myself, but I want to share that I'm hard-of-hearing. It's genetic and just about everyone on my family's maternal side suffers significant hearing loss. I've had hearing aids since I was 10 years old, and as I've grown up, it becomes more and more clear to me how little people understand about the importance of accessibility.

This post is a bit of a rant since all of the below have been said to me personally (all in one conversation, actually 🤦🏼‍♀️). These are all the things I wish I could've said at the time, but you don't always get to speak out when you're like me. It's exhausting, and I'm writing this post as an ask to please be more aware of the things you say and how you say them. You might mean well, but your words can still be incredibly hurtful.

"It's low priority."

That's pretty clear at this point, but why is that? What's your excuse? Is it too hard? Do you not want to spend the time learning about it? Are there not enough of us that exist for you to be concerned about our needs?

"We need to beat competitors to market."

Based on my experience in this industry, I wonder if they are even concerned about accessibility. Consumers value companies that value them. You should be trying to stand out beyond having a large number of software features.

"I get it, but..."

No, you obviously don't. If you did, you wouldn't be saying any of these things to my face. You either think you're super woke or you completely forgot that you're talking to a disabled person. I'm kind of afraid of how you talk about disabled people when you're away from us.

"There's no point if no one is using it."

So, when people start using it, how do you plan on figuring out how many of them need a more accessible tool if we can't actually use it to tell you? We don't have the time for you to play catch up. We'll just go somewhere else.


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Discussion (26)

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chipit24 profile image
Robert Komaromi • Edited

Accessibility is the default for me; when I can, I implement things in an accessible way. For analogy, if you're an electrician, the default should be to use the correct gauge wire to prevent fires, to install the right type of receptacle in a washroom, etc.

It's about making the web easier to use for everyone, not just certain people with certain disabilities. Some situations require much more attention, I understand that, but in general, I won't waste time discussing if feature X should be accessible or not. You wouldn't want your electrician asking you if you specifically want the correct gauge wire.

I have protanopia, red-green colour blindness, and always bring to attention any design that is difficult for me to use. But there are also a slew of tools to help with these kinds of things, and it's getting better. You no longer need to be an accessibility expert to make the right choices.

Not that I feel the need to explain myself

Not gonna lie, this sets a bit of a defensive tone to the whole article. I definitely appreciate the explanation though. It would be nice to get more context on the points / rants you made, like what accessibility feature you were discussing, and whether or not it was related to hearing ability.

Also, despite your hearing disability, do hearing aids allow you to use the web without issue?

Thanks for the article!

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ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her) Author

Accessibility should be the default. That’s awesome you have that mentality. ☺️

When I said, “Not that I feel the need to explain myself,” I was trying to come across as, “I don’t mind talking about my disability, this is me making a choice to.” However, this piece is about me defending myself and people like me. I think you’re reading the tone correctly. I’m not trying to be nice about it. 😉

So, the context here is a conversation about making an app more accessible. There was no specific feature, it was for all the features, in general.

As for whether or not my hearing aids help me use the web, it really depends on the quality of audio. Some people put out content that sounds like they’re talking in an empty silo. When I can, I try to use headphones so the sound is directly in my ears. I mostly avoid content without captions though. It’s just too much work when you have to listen to something two or three times or more.

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tiim profile image
Tim Bachmann

This post made me think about accessibility and how much I don't know about it. Could you point me to some, in your opinion good resources on how to get started with accessibility, especially in web apps?

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chipit24 profile image
Robert Komaromi

I found the following resources to be useful for me:

I read through some articles / tutorials as I needed them and skimmed through others. The Inclusive Components articles are lengthy, but all good reads!

This is also a good reference:

And don't neglect the actual specs when you're stumped on something specific:

And last but not least, get familiar with HTML sectioning:

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ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her) Author

Thank you for sharing all of these links! I need to add them to Google Keep or bookmark them so I can come back later...

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ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her) Author

To add to the other comment:

Also, there are various extensions within all of these links that you can use to test accessibility. Lighthouse is a pretty cool one I learned about through the Gatsby tutorials.

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joshualjohnson profile image
Joshua Johnson

We need more accessibility champions in the world of Software Dev! Thanks for this article!

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ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her) Author

Thank you for getting it. 😊

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vdedodev profile image
Vincent Dedo

So what should someone say? I would probably have said the first one, it's low priority (compared to other things like getting all features in and squashing bugs), so I know not to say that now, but it leaves me with no good answer that comes to mind.

Also, people who aren't disabled don't generally know how to make things more accessible or how wide to go. You mention you have hearing aids, then there are people with visual impairment, people with dyslexia, people with motor control issues, and probably more. Do we cater for everything or draw a line somewhere and how do we draw that line?

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ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her) Author • Edited

The point is that there is no good reason not to be accessible. It’s 2019 and there are dozens of resources for learning about how to make your sites and applications accessible. There’s another comment here with a bunch of links to get you started.

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ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her) Author

But to answer your first question, you should be saying, “I’m sorry.”

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lauragift21 profile image
Gift Egwuenu

Thank you for writing about this. I feel like a lot more developers need to embrace accessibility.

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ashleemboyer profile image
Ashlee (she/her) Author

Agree, 100%. It's a lot easier to make sites accessible than we're lead to believe.

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silvestricodes profile image
Jonathan Silvestri

"You're right, I'm sorry, I will do my part to raise this concern to our team."

  • Everyone in response to anyone who brings up the inaccessibility of said company's product/app/etc.

Practice it in a mirror if you need to, folks.

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lkreimann profile image
Lea Reimann 🦄 • Edited

I thought about accessibility in the last few days. I'm maintaining and developing a rather big software project which often isn't even readable for me. I then feel bad for all the users with visual impairments, who probably have a hard time with that. But this article inspires me to do better, definitely a field where I have to learn a lot more!

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