To me, advocating for something means that you’re trying to make it better. In web accessibility, there’s a tension between pointing out things that could be better and waiting for them to get fixed. When we point out the failures, often the response is “it’s just a demo”, or “that’s coming in a later phase.” You could wait and wait, politely ask again and wait some more, and it might never be accessible, because it’s actually harder to do after designs have shipped and budgets have been spent.
If designers and developers never got feedback that their project was inaccessible and people couldn’t use it, would they have any idea they’d missed out on an opportunity to expand their user base? No feedback might reinforce the assumption that “the disabled aren’t our audience.” It could be disabled people aren’t your audience because you didn’t give them the chance.
Given the benefit of the doubt, however, maybe you didn’t know that accessibility was something you could build into your workflow. Would gaining this knowledge change how you built it next time? Would the tone with which it was messaged to you affect whether you made changes now? This tension is something I think about a lot as an accessibility advocate.
How can we make the web the most accessible place it can be? By working together. It’s corny, but I mean it. In the past, I’ve complained loudly about projects that weren’t built with accessibility in mind. But, as I've learned, all that does is bring people down. It goes from trying to make something better to making it worse, as it becomes an us vs. them situation. If the people who worked on that project hear you complaining, they might very likely be discouraged, rather than inspired to fix it. Most people don’t react well to guilt trips or negative energy–I know I don’t. I’m a lot more eager to work with someone in open source, for example, if they are compassionate and polite. Knowing there are people on the other end is important in how we discuss accessibility, and software in general.
Sadly, with accessibility so much of the conversation is about what was done wrong. Hell, even spurring change from offenders most of the time requires a big lawsuit. It's depressing if you fixate on that too much. For that reason, I always thought there was a need for good accessibility to be highlighted somewhere, to focus on the positive. That way others could see what accessible web designs looked like and feel inspired. Last year, I asked Netmag to create an accessibility category at the Net Awards, which the community seemed to support, but it didn’t happen. Still, I kept scheming ways to get the word out about accessibility.
When I started this article, I wrote down “I really wish there were more accessibility wins to showcase. Maybe I’ll just start a Tumblr.” My very next step was to register a new blog on Tumblr, find an accessible theme, redo everything in the theme because it wasn’t very accessible, and start writing about things I thought were successful on the web. The workflow was this: think of common web accessibility problems and find examples of them being addressed. Write a few paragraphs with a screenshot and a link, nicely pointing out ways it could be improved but focusing on the good parts. That is how http://a11ywins.tumblr.com was born. What happened after that blew my mind. The site was bookmarked by Smashing Magazine, CSS Tricks, SidebarIO, Web Platform Daily and more, and posted by so many awesome people on Twitter that I can’t even count them all (thank you to each and every one).
I guess you could say the community confirmed my hypothesis that highlighting successes would be a good approach. What Accessibility Wins taught me was that people are desperate for positive leadership in accessibility…less tearing people down, and more building people up. Because if we’re going to make the web the most accessible place, we’re going to have to do it together. That means giving people praise when they do something right, and being helpful and supportive when things could be better. In our pursuit to make the web more accessible we can be loud and we can be patient, but no matter what, we must be kind.