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What do you wish you knew about digital accessibility?

sublimemarch profile image Fen Slattery ・1 min read

Digital accessibility has become a more popular topic in recent years, and lawsuits against inaccessible websites are becoming more and more common. As developers, we have an ethical responsibility to help empower people to use the technology we create, but so often we're under-educated about exactly how to build things with accessibility in mind.

As the Accessibility Lead at my company and a front end engineer, I have a wealth of knowledge to share with the dev.to community, and I'd love to know what resources I can share! What do you want to know about digital accessibility? Folks with accessibility experience: what do you wish someone taught you when you were just starting off? What resources and guides don't exist yet, that you'd like to link others to?

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Fen Slattery


Accessibility lead and front end engineer. they/them


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Hello, fellow a11y friend! I also write about a11y and am still learning as I write. I really wish there were more resources on mobile app and a11y stuff. That is what I plan on learning and writing about next. If you have resources on those I'd love to hear them :)


Oh heck yeah, mobile accessibility! Here are a few resources I have bookmarked:

I'm excited to see your post!


Fantastic! Thank you! Since I started writing about accessibility, I've been learning so much more where my gaps in knowledge are. I remember thinking that I would run out of things to talk about. Turns out... my running list of topics I want to cover is getting longer and longer

Same! The more you learn, the more you learn what it is you don't know. Have you applied to speak about accessibility topics at conferences? It's another great way to share what you've learned!

I took a break from speaking in 2018 from being burned out speaking 7-10 times on a11y in 2017 ha!

My goal is definitely to get back into the game in 2019 depending on how the blogging/course creation goes.


It's so good to see more and more a11y content appearing on DEV.to, if you had to single out the one biggest accessibility 'sin' what would it be?

When you look at this site, from an accessibility stand point, what things do you wish were different?


Ooooh, that's tricky.

The biggest, most deadly sin I see regarding accessibility is just not giving a crap. If you don't care about users and have empathy for people with disabilities, you're not going to get much of anywhere. It's also the most frustrating because there's only so much I can do to help people learn to care about other people, ya know?

The most common and most personally frustrating accessibility sin that I see is poor color contrast. It's really simple to check your colors to see if they have sufficient contrast, and it's pretty easy to adjust colors to fix this problem. Not only is color contrast necessary for folks with color blindness and low/no vision, it helps everyone to not have to strain to read your site. Unfortunately, lots of people don't know to think about color contrast, and there are so many sites that are just super unusable. I'm a person with (mostly) normal vision, but as an accessibility engineer married to a person with colorblindness, sites with bad color contrast are just like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Dev.to does a pretty good job of accessibility, at first glance! I haven't done an audit on it, but given that it's all open source, I'll likely check it over and open some Github issues for problems I find. Thanks for the idea!


Newly released Firefox 64 added a tool to check color contrast ratios to the Accessibility inspector.

I've just been playing with it and it seems a bit useful


Hello! I am a CS student doing my masters, and so far I have learned web/game dev (react, unity) in my internships.

I would like to know which steps should I take to pursue a career in accessibility. Are there any certificates I should try to get? Basic bibliography I should read? Any other recommended piece of knowledge / practice?

Also, what is the "daily life of an a11y dev"? (i.e. involved responsibilities, tasks, technologies used...)


Hey there! So there are some new certifications that exist, but they're definitely not widely used. More than anything, you just need to know your stuff and be able to demonstrate it, both by explaining it to others and with projects you've worked on. In my experience, so much of accessibility work is being able to teach accessibility concepts to others.

Some good books to check out are:

I'd recommend becoming involved in your local accessibility meetup (if there is one) and local disability rights organizations. In addition, be active in spaces where people are discussing accessibility, like in the #accessibility and #a11y hashtags on Twitter. Subscribe to newsletters about accessibility topics, like the ones from WebAIM, A11y Weekly, and the University of Minnesota's Web Dev newsletter.

And some general responsibilities and tasks I have as an accessibility dev, specifically at a consulting firm:

  • Help the partners and accounts director talk about accessibility with potential new clients
  • Work with project managers to determine the accessibility needs of our clients and help the client understand their goals
  • Work with the design team to identify potential accessibility issues with what the client wants, review their designs for accessibility
  • Work with engineers to figure out how to best build out tricky parts of the site accessibility-wise, as well as discuss overall HTML architecture
  • Audit sites before they go live
  • Write blog posts and give conference talks to educate others about accessibility with the help of our content team
  • Share new knowledge and training with, well, everyone!

So my understanding is that accessibility is mostly a front end concern. Is there something back end devs can do as well, or is it primarily a downstream problem?


Good question, there's definitely a lot that back end devs can do, too! (For reference, here's a talk I gave about exactly this idea, that back end devs also need to care about it!)

  • Accessibility is everyone's job. Sure, some folks like front end devs might write more code to support accessibility, but it's everyone's job to advocate for it and ensure that the team is remembering the end user. Anyone can play a valuable role in implementing accessibility improvements, regardless of role and experience. Here's a great article about an 8-step model for accessibility implementation that outlines how anyone can help.

  • If you're working with a content management system, back end devs need to structure the CMS such that content managers can easily make the site accessible. This includes things like making sure that images can have alternative text, that form fields have autocomplete attributes, and that content creators can add the appropriate tags to their content, like language.

  • Even without a content management system, back end devs need to ensure that content is stored in a way that preserves its accessibility attributes. Images, for example, might need to have different alternative text based on context, and your database schema needs to account for this.

  • Back end developers who integrate front end code into a back end also generally need to be well-informed about semantic structure of accessible HTML, so they can ensure that they preserve important structure when they integrate a front end.


This is gold, thanks!