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Morgan Smith
Morgan Smith

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Accessibility Myth Busting

Recently, I was asked to do a talk for a local coding bootcamp. During this talk I discussed many different factors about accessibility and SEO, and I wanted to take some time to talk about some myths about accessibility. While there is a wide swath of misinformation and misconceptions about accessibility I am going to hit on three points that I have dealt with in my career. The first of this is the “disabled people won’t use my site”. Secondly, I have heard the myth that “accessibility is ugly”. I’ve also heard it’s troubling sibling “accessibility will make my site”. Whenever I heard these- or variations on the theme- I am suddenly transformed into the meme of the confused math lady meme. These myths show a huge knowledge gap in the people who say things like this.
Normally, I try to be really lenient about knowledge gaps because most of the time the person can’t really help that they have a gap. For example, I recently found I had a huge gap in my understanding about how web browsers actually work and it was negatively impacting my coding abilities. So, once I found the gap I did research and I feel like my gap is smaller. However, when it comes to accessibility it shows a bigger issue about how web-dev/STEM in general is taught. If you are only taught to make things for abled people, there is no way you are going to think about making things for disabled people. Exposure to making things for everyone should be taught at the base level of web-dev. It’ll help prevent misunderstandings about making websites for everyone.
Another issue with this knowledge gap is that this tends to be hand in hand with ableism. Many people assume that people are either capable of doing things in a “normal” way (i.e. using a computer with a mouse alone) or they need help. It doesn’t occur that people think about the spectrum of ableism. When you make your site accessible you can make better for everyone. One group of people that is slowly getting more recognized by developers is people with vision problems (blind + low vision). Many developers are realizing that their sites need to be screen reader friendly, and that their text needs to be high contrast. However, when you do this you are positively impacting your SEO* and making your site easier to read by elderly. So, by making an inclusive choice you are possibly expanding your audience.
Another thing about high contrast, easy to read, easy to navigate sites is that they tend to be better UX/UI. It has been my experience that when you discuss making things accessible people immediately think about ugly and clunky things, like in real life they think about slapped together wheelchair ramps. However, well done design includes everyone. A real life example of this would be something like cut outs in a curb, they make sidewalks accessible to wheelchair users, but they also make it easier for people pushing strollers or luggage. It also is less effort to step up on the sidewalk, even if you are perfectly abled bodied and not carrying anything. Good UI/UX is the same way. Giving your site a clear, easy to understand hierarchy is just good design, and it makes it easier for everyone, including people with learning disabilities.

Finally, I have heard some developers complain that making their site accessible will make it slower. This is the one that normally makes me the most confused, since the most accessible site would just be text + html which would be lighting fast. Typically, the more inaccessible your site is the slower it is, because there is extra plugins or scripts or flashy pictures running. When you have something like a 3rd party pop-up running, it will annoy your abled users, it will mess up screen readers, and can confuse users with learning disabilities. Many other dark patterns in development will have similar effects.
To wrap it all up, understanding that the internet is for everyone and designing your site accordingly will typically make you have a better site. Making your site accessible will not lead to a slower site. It will not lead to an uglier site. It also will increase your range of potential users. Following good accessibility practices also means that your site will be easier to user for everyone.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope you learned something new about web dev!

*good alt tags can help spiders read your site better, and hopefully increase your ratings

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