Comments on Reframing Accessibility for the Web

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  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. But here’s a point:


    Accessible apps (web and native) are products of great engineering.


    You can’t build tool/framework your way into this type of product. It requires you to do things outside the cubicle or the stand-up desk. In some ways, you have to grow up – not just in maturity but just stepping out into the world and examining it. Realize that what you are building isn’t just for you or the lowest common denominator, it’s for everyone.

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  2. Anne - I know that WordPress (CMS) and Bootstrap (framework) are working on accessibility issues. There are people more experienced than me that can talk about these two. But the funny thing is that the most simple, basic solutions are the ones that make it easier for accessibility. Once the basics are down, accessibility is simple a by-product.

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  3. Thank you for writing this.

    Almost every presentation I’ve given on web accessibility starts the same way. I also pull points from Sara Hendren’s article “All technology is assistive technology”. A good read if you’ve never read it. More specifically, I reframe for people by pushing towards universal design.

    I definitely like the matrix idea as a practical way of doing a checklist.

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  4. Well written especially the personas part. I am learning to identify personas for my projects and this adds a perspective towards how should the identification should be approached.

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  5. Um, Anne, if you’re going to talk about ‘people’ why dont you discuss testing your interface on real people? Matrix theory and personas are no substitute for talking to real end users :)

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  6. Yes, accessibility is incredibly important.

    No, I don’t think ALA is the place to discuss people with disabilities, stereotypes and political correctness.

    Your article is highly ideological (“Why do we fixate on justifying the existence of people with disabilities?”) and p.c. which distracts from the important technological and work ethical things you write. It’s not the first “political” article in recent months and I really, really hope editors focus on what ALA is about in future entries. No hard feeling please, Anne. Just my opinion.

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  7. Wow, this is a really interesting and thought-provoking article. My initial response to your conclusion was, “yeah, that’s a really good way of looking at it”.

    But then something started to bother me, and it’s kind of hard to articulate, so bear with me :-)

    When I first started to advocate web accessibility, I tried to frame it in universal terms—accessibility is about everyone, and everything we think of as an accessibility requirement has benefits for more than one user group. For example, I would say that single-column layouts are useful for people who use very large text or screen magnifiers, and that they’re also better for viewing on mobile devices. So an accessibility requirement is framed in terms of accessibility + added benefits, and that makes it easier to sell, harder to dispute the importance of.

    But the effect of that approach was actually the reverse. Instead of promoting accessibility, I was giving people an excuse to ignore it. Because, “oh we’re not concerned about mobile devices, so we don’t need to do that”.

    Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that framing accessibility in terms of everyone is actually a distraction, because that isn’t really what accessibility is about. Accessibility is about providing for the needs of people with disabilities. Accessibility is positive discrimination.

    After all, we are not legally or morally obliged to make a site work for tablets, or mobiles, or any particular voluntary preference. But we are legally and morally obliged to make the site work for people who are blind, or deaf, or have a mobility or cognitive impairment (among other things). Such impairments do exist within a spectrum—I completely agree with that; there is no such thing as a “normal” human being. Nevertheless, there is a specific evolutionary basis for what we consider “disability”, and the WCAG specifications (and the law) must frame accessibility in those terms.

    That’s the original conclusion I came to, anyway. But I keep wavering between that and my original point of view, and your article has made me stop and think about it all again :-) I’ll be interested to know what you think; whether there’s a way of resolving this apparent conflict of intentions.

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  8. And yet this webpage is not navigable by keyboard (tab) and images are missing alt=”” entries. The sentiment is great but Anne should help this website become more accessible.

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  9. @listapartfan No site is perfect with regard to accessibility but the key is whether issues that are identified get addressed.  I tried to navigate the site with the keyboard alone and am able to (although I have a few comments about making the tab order better and a couple of other items).  I also reviewed this article page and am not finding images that are missing alt=”” where needed.  Can you help by pointing out the issues in more detail so they can be reviewed?

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  10. Anne, this article is a bold and important statement. Thank you for writing it. The line that struck me the most is:

    Web accessibility means that people can use the web

    Just as web developers first conceptualized responsive design as mobile support, so too have we introduced accessibility as disability support. The analogy tells us that our understanding of accessibility will broaden and deepen as the techniques to support it become embedded in the structures of our tools and process. Eventually we will all understand the accessibility is the basis of interface design and development—as web professionals we make information accessible to humans and machines (yes machines, too!).

    There are numerous open source projects attempting to address the development of consistent accessible user interfaces. I believe that automated testing is an important component of this effort and it’s why I devote time to developing Quail (https://github.com/quailjs/quail). If this is something you (and I mean anyone reading this comment) would like to support, consider contributing to the project!

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  11. Hi Anne,

    I found your comments about changing the way we discuss and consider ‘differently-abled’ people or technology users to be inspirational. What I am struggling with are the cost dynamics of building and testing websites for everyone.

    I agree with James’ comments that we are morally (even legally, in some cases) obligated to build sites that work for those with disabilities but the primary reason our clients don’t do so is cost.

    Even if we could build fully accessible sites or online applications without added cost (ftr, we can’t) the act of testing them on the variety of devices is time-consuming and costly. Where this usually leaves us is building a site using basic best practices for Level 1 of the WCAG accessibility guidelines (http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/full-checklist.html) and hoping for the best. In other words, building the site to be universally accessible falls by the wayside along with supporting IE7 or other browser/OS combinations that make up less than 5% of traffic to the site.

    Any thoughts on how to make this kind of priority affordable for clients who are essentially at their budget limit getting a site designed and built that works with modern browsers across desktop and mobile devices?

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  12. Love this article Anne, thank you!
    By happy coincidence Isolde Carmody has written a brilliant and funny/tragic piece on the same topic from a user’s perspective her: https://accessadventures.WordPress.com

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  13. Well written article. Although I agree with most of the article, there’s a couple of things where we should see a different standpoint when thinking accessibility and business.

    “I’ve had many otherwise totally reasonable people justify not spending money to repair an accessibility issue because there aren’t enough of “them” to make it worthwhile. Strangely, these same people have no issue with spending more money on “expert users” or making their applications “feature-rich,” as long as it’s done for the “primary customer”—never realizing that a subset of those primary customers are people with disabilities.”
    Let’s imagine a situation where we are optimizing a website of our company. We have a few things what we can do, improve our website SEO and get more visitors, or improve our website accessibility. It’s very likely that we are going to earn more money through our website by SEO than having a better accessibility in it.

    Most of the companies out there are aiming to succeed in a business world, aka. to make money as much as possible, it’s just a cold fact.

    But you are right, we SHOULD value accessibility over “there aren’t enough of “them” to make it worthwhile” thinking, it’s morally right thing to do.

    Things which are more profitable when done, are more likely to be done. We people are greedy.

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  14. Hi Anne,

    The web accessibility policy in the Netherlands is based on what you describe in your article. The right of access to on-line information and services is not limited to people with disabilities.

    The current Dutch web accessibility standard Web Guidelines version 2 fully incorporates WCAG 2.0, without alterations or deformities. But besides Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust it contains one more principle: Universal. The guidelines under this principle are about [1] the semantics of web technologies that are used (example: don’t use tables for layout purposes), [2] strict separation of content, style and behaviour (a precondition for responsive design), [3] layered construction (example: progressive enhancement), [4] meaningful error messages, [5] usability of forms, [6] multilingualism, [7] nested viewports (example: frames), [8] character encoding (UTF-8 is mandatory), [9] use of open, vendor independent specifications, and [10] sustainability of URI’s.

    So I’m with you about the need for reframing web accessibility. But I don’t agree that reframing accessibility as a technology challenge solves that problem. Web accessibility is not only the domain of web workers, who (are supposed to) understand the technological aspects of the subject. Policy makers, executive officers and supervisors also have a role in this matter. They are are insufficiently reached when the reframing is limited to the technological aspects. Even worse, reframing accessibility as a technology challenge fails to address the problem that these actors not always take up their role, because web accessibility is ‘just’ a technological problem, not a managerial one. Don’t get me wrong though: what you describe does contribute to solving the web accessibility challenge. But more is needed.

    Web accessibility policies worldwide are based on conformance with specifications such as WCAG 2.0. The effectiveness of such policies is evaluated by testing websites against the spec. In case of WCAG 2.0, it is explicitly described when conformance can be claimed: all success criteria of a given conformance level must be met in full. This means that, without deviating from the norm, evaluation of adoption can only be based on three possible outcomes (excluding level AAA): [1] a website owner can successfully claim conformance to WCAG 2.0, level AA, [2] a website owner can successfully claim conformance to WCAG 2.0, level A, or [3] a website owner can not successfully claim conformance. Experience has shown that the most likely outcome is 3, hence policies that are directly linked to WCAG 2.0 conformance are bound to fail.

    What is needed is a better insight in the reasons why, in cases where conformance cannot be claimed. That’s in most cases… Test results alone do not provide this type of information.

    A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted a figure about the subject, in which a new approach is introduced. The proposed approach uses conformance testing, but also takes into account the external influences that may prevent website owners from successfully claiming conformance. The figure is used in a paper that was submitted for the Web4All conference in May.

    (If you’d like to receive a copy of the paper for review purposes, please let me know.)

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  15. Hi Anne

    Thank you for an interesting article. I second many of Raph’s points above. In particular I strongly disagree that ‘Accessibility is a trait of the website itself’. This suggests that accessibility is unchanging, that our knowledge of what is necessary to achieve accessible websites and experiences is complete, and that web resources stand alone, independent of context (or even framing technologies beyond a developers control). Clearly there are many positive steps that designers and developers can take to ensure their sites are more inclusive – however, accessibility is relational, dependent on the development/content side, but also the user’s actions in a given context.  Much of this is also dependent on how disability is understood (an element that your article refers to), and this can be very culturally dependent. In short, web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource. It is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities.  There’s a lot to say here – and lots of positive steps (beyond WCAG, or a matrix focused on Assistive Technologies) that developers can take to attend more closely to context, experience and interaction.

    Some open access (academic) papers that go into this more deeply, are:

    Developing Countries; Developing Experiences: Approaches to Accessibility for the Real World (2010)

    A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First (2012)

    Bring Your Own Policy: Why Accessibility Standards Need to be Contextually Aware (2013)

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  16. Thought provoking article. I liked James - ‘positive discrimination’ comment. However, framing the entire ‘accessibility project’ around some vague politically correct notion of addressing the needs of ‘the people’ would result in absolutely nothing getting done that worked effectively.

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  17. Anne, thank you for this interesting and provocative article. You make many important points and have sparked some great discussion. In my estimation there’s a problem with your opening remark:

    Most people are taught that “web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web”—the official definition from the W3C. This is wrong. Web accessibility means that people can use the web.

    I believe web accessibility must be about making sure people with disabilities can use the web — positive discrimination, as James says, to ensure the needs and preferences of people with disabilities are considered when we create technologies, designs, products, and services.

    We need the official W3C definition of accessibility in order to make sure the needs of people with disabilities are front of mind in all our efforts.

    I do think user experience is about making sure people can use the web, and when we incorporate accessibility into user experience activities, that’s the context in which accessibility is about “people are people.” I believe that’s the point you are trying to make, but it gets lost a bit in translation.

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  18. Hello Sarah,

    I believe web accessibility must be about making sure people with disabilities can use the web

    In my experience, reserving the term accessibility solely for the benefit of Individuals with Disabilities (IWD), is that it influences cognitive dissonance surrounding how best to define it. For example, it’s not unusual to hear a claim of needing to design for accessibility, then clarify that doing so will allow blind people to access their content. Eventually people get stuck in their reasoning for making a site accessible, which exacerbates the stereotypes of the people who will benefit from it. When people challenge the accessibility of that implementation, the content owners defend the design as conforming to the needs of their definition of disability.

    Merriam Webster defines accessibility as “providing access, capable of being reached; communicated or deal[t] with; influenced or; being used.” It means capable, which is a quality as defined in your book A Web for Everyone:

    ...it means how easily and effectively a product or service can be accessed and used


    — A Web for Everyone, by Sarah Horton & Whitney Quesenbery


    In my opinion, accessibility should be defined as the quality of UX that places people first, regardless of their level of ability. The minute that you make the claim that accessibility only benefits IWD, you make decisions about which quality sets a user apart from the core demographic. Once we make decisions regarding what exactly makes up a disability, we end up losing track of the 9 principles of an Accessible User Experience Framework detailed in that book. In doing so, we end up discriminating against others who fall outside our interpretation of disability.

    I suspect that if the original authors of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines had kept the definition to refer to everyone, it might have been written in such a way that doesn’t alienate other disabilities who require AAA criteria.

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  19. Jonathan, you rascal! Using my words against me. :) I agree 100% that accessibility is a quality attribute of user experience, and people first FTW!

    I think the W3C definition of accessibility focuses attention on the needs of people with disabilities, to ensure those needs are on the table when we are creating technology specifications, development frameworks, browser features and functionality, assistive technologies, digital products and services. Unfortunately, I don’t think our approach to accessibility is mature enough at this time that we can lessen that focus.

    As we integrate accessibility into user experience, my hope is that we drop “accessible” and just talk about user experience. I believe that’s what Anne and all of us are after, and I believe that’s where we are headed.

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  20. How is it unreasonable for people to look at the number of users affected by an issue? This site and the author’s site look really bad and are hard to read in IE5. Without looking at numbers it is impossible to tell how big of a problem lack of IE5 support actually is.

    In my opinion, the ideological tone of accessibility articles such as this serves more to alienate web devs than it does to encourage them to make sites more accessible. Let’s make some allowances for pragmatism when we discuss these issues.

    Is it really immoral to have a site that’s not 100% accessible? Many commenters have taken this view but I don’t think it stands up to scrutiny. The tables in this article are images. Do we really want to impugn the author’s character because of that?

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  21. Sarah,

    For what it’s worth, I thought the book was awesome enough to merit a proper nod!

    Thanks for the clarification. I agree with your assessment as to why the W3C defined accessibility in that way, but I don’t agree that it was the best direction to go. Politically speaking, specifying disabled users in a definition makes the most sense when highlighting the importance of creating accessible sites. However, as the W3C has been identified as the de facto authority for web standards, it ended up redefining a term that others are now quoting. Because of this, I suspect it will be very difficult to “drop ‘accessible’” as accessibility becomes more integrated into user experience.

    In my opinion, this stage in our ‘maturity’ is the best time to revisit how accessibility specialists market and promote accessibility. Many companies continue to integrate accessibility into their workflow only after that need becomes apparent. I see this in organizations who have already achieved high maturity levels of CMMI and embraced Agile and Lean project management methodology. I believe they continue to operate this way because the definition of accessibility relies too heavily on defining a type of person. Products are only developed if they meet the needs of a wide demographic, but asserting a quality as beneficial to one type of person means they will often be overlooked. Anne makes a brilliant observation that IWD are a “subset of those primary customers.” Unfortunately, until we decide it’s okay to wrap IWD into the greater audience, it will continue to prove challenging to help others decide when to include it a workflow.

    To address the concern of potentially ignoring the distinct needs of people with disabilities, projects and processes would benefit from acknowledging which requirements are necessary in order to access their content. Effective Project Management requires elicitation to determine those requirements that are not known. Integrated testing would ensure needs are met.  If content providers and developers integrated design and accessibility into their project management, inclusive design would become the requirement. Once ‘designing for all’ becomes the requirement for project management and organizational policy, ensuring accessibility will mean products are developed for the widest demographic. People with disabilities would cease to become an afterthought because now they are included as primary customers.

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  22. Hi all. I was reading through this really interesting conversation when I saw A Web for Everyone mentioned. (Thanks)  Let me try a slightly different take on “everyone” vs. “people with disabilities.” In the book (and through the title), we took the position that doing good design and coding better is an important part of accessibility. We choose colors. Why not choose colors with enough contrast? We have headings in our text. Why not mark them up correctly? And so on. This is better UX because it lets more people have a better experience. The same thing that lets me make the text a little bit bigger can let someone else make it a lot bigger. But the thing that trips us up is that there are some things that we must do, no matter what. That’s because they remove absolute barriers. If I don’t describe an image, someone who can’t see it has no idea whether it communicates something important or is a decorative doodle. And, if the widget to select the size of a shirt on an ecommerce site isn’t coded properly for keyboard or a screen reader, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the rest of the page is: I’m not buying that shirt. We need to avoid creating those absolute barriers. And we also need to create the habits in our work (whether we design, research, write, or build) that make the web a better place for everyone.

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  23. I believe in the idea of universal design, i.e., that a website can meet the needs of all users, and think we can eventually come close to achieving it. We are quite a ways away, however; for example, to truly meet the need of all users, a website would have to adapt to differences in learning styles and cognition, which websites certainly don’t. It’s difficult enough to ensure websites meet WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines much less building them to be adaptive.

    Another issue is the decreasing, but still significant, lack of awareness about the need for accessible design. Designing websites so they are accessible for persons with disabilities is not a given; there are still plenty of sites that persons with disabilities can’t use.

    For those reasons my perspective is that it’s still productive to speak of designing websites that accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities, since it provides a necessary and useful focus that might otherwise be overlooked.

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  24. I thought some might be interested to read further discussions of this article taking place both on the WebAIM email list, as well as the WAI Interest Group list.

    The start of the thread on WAI-IG is:
    http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2015JanMar/0093.html

    And the WebAIM thread:
    http://webaim.org/discussion/mail_thread?thread=6769

    Kudos to you, Anne. It’s great that you’ve opened such valuable discussions. Thank you for working for change.

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  25. `Hi all!
    I live in Belgium - Europe and I have ALS, which means in my case that I cannot breathe, speak or move (not even a finger or a toe).
    I am so glad I found this site!
    My computer goes online and I buy everything online!
    Somewhere (online) is an article that says that 1 in 50 people is in a wheelchair.
    And what do we do online?
    Right!
    Buy stuff!
    Something to think about…
    Schanulleke

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  26. Anne, I appreciate both your article and your responses to the comments on the article.  I’ve found myself reading this article multiple times and spending time reflecting on points you made in it. I hope you will write more articles in the future.

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  27. The stair case.

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  28. Worth mentioning Addy Osmani’s a11y audit tool: https://github.com/addyosmani/a11y/

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  29. Even as the discussions have continued, on both lists, I thought I’d note a couple of articles that I saw being circulated. Here’s
    The role of accessibility in a universal web:
    http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/88013

    And also this, from the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative—
    Designing for Inclusion:
    http://www.w3.org/WAI/users/

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  30. Although the article gives plenty of practical guidance for assuring accessibility, there are a few aspects which in my opinion point in the wrong direction. After writing down my thoughts, it seems better to post it on my blog. It is longish: http://www.chemnitzer-14.de/accessibility-is-usability-in-context-of-disability/

    Nevertheless, thanks for the excellent work.

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  31. As the discussion continues beyond this post, here’s an article, translated from German, and posted to the WAI-IG email list:
    Accessibility is usability in context of disability
    http://www.chemnitzer-14.de/accessibility-is-usability-in-context-of-disability/
    Just trying to leave some kind of cross-posted record . . .
    And I see Jan has already posted this. Thanks!
    I’d delete duplication, but I don’t see a way to do so.

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  32. Really good to see this article as I think UX as a practice cannot move forward if we constantly ignore this aspect of it.

    I really like the comment by Ville Rouhiainen because in my thoughts around this,  it is crystal clear how our society and tech now, generally caters to the wealthy. I’m also from a ‘developing’ country so I know the effects. I’ve written about how discrimination based on wealth is acceptable (first class/Upper class ?), and this seeps in into many aspects of our lives including accessibility.

    “Let’s imagine a situation where we are optimizing a website of our company. We have a few things what we can do, improve our website SEO and get more visitors, or improve our website accessibility. It’s very likely that we are going to earn more money through our website by SEO than having a better accessibility in it. Most of the companies out there are aiming to succeed in a business world, aka. to make money as much as possible, it’s just a cold fact. But you are right, we SHOULD value accessibility over “there aren’t enough of “them” to make it worthwhile” thinking, it’s morally right thing to do. Things which are more profitable when done, are more likely to be done. We people are greedy”


    Until we start to see ourselves all on the disability spectrum (as you mentioned), we will not be able to but design for those most similar to us and this involves a re-education on who ‘users’ are.


    A good read on this ( Money vs Accessibility )is the recent development by Flipboard http://christianheilmann.com/2015/02/15/flipboard-and-the-mobile-web-dream/

     

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  33. This is a really fantastic article. I especially love how you comment on our currently flawed default thinking about “designing for accessibility.”

    Accessibility is a trait of the website itself. <—this really spoke to me. Yes, I completely agree.

    Accessibility is core in making our content functional and useful. It shouldn’t be an “enhancement.” If anything, fancy visuals are an enhancement to content. I loved your statement that “accessibility isn’t about defining your audience and building to their needs.”

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  34. Andrew, I suspect the comment regarding images is that the two very important matrix tables are just images. Yeah, they have ALT text, but obviously a couple of words about the table is not equivalent to being able to consume the tables. It’s a somewhat unfortunate occurrence in an article taking others to task for not making things accessible. Glass houses, and all that.
    <figure class=“embedded-quote” id=“ala-embedded-comment-338570”><blockquote></blockquote><figcaption>—  Andrew Kirkpatrick on Reframing Accessibility for the Web</figcaption></figure>     
    [removed][removed]

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  35. Accessibility is certainly a distraction, it is to fulfill the needs of the disabled, affirmative action, as we are required to do work for people with some added to that which anyone for their condition may experience difficulty easier.

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  36. messages and articles about accessibility often fail in some cases because they are often written to a one-size fits all audience. I’ve found the theme “the web is for everyone” resonates with folks new to accessibility, but is lacking when the designer and developers are trying to make responsive web work for everyone and meet the 3 break points.

    In other words there is a better time for inspiration articles, a time for practical guidance for a designer, and another time for practical advice for a developer - the three are related, but different and adapted to the role of the reader, the time in the project life cycle (arch, design, code, test, or maintenance), and the expertise and maturity of the project - e.g. are we just starting or is this a tweak?

    Who needs to change the way they talk about accessibility, when, and to whom?

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  37. great thing that you share this article…

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  38. Great perspective and insight, thanks!

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  39. Sorry, commenting is closed on this article.