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One Step at a Time

by Derek Featherstone

Originally published on Simply Accessible on May 2, 2012.

We often get asked about how we integrate accessibility into our processes. It’s fairly straightforward for us, because we’re already doing it. But what about people that want to start adding accessibility into their mix? How should they go about adding in pieces? One Step at a Time.

I had a great meeting and conversation on Monday with a designer that was visiting Ottawa. She asked me a lot of great questions–one of which was “How can I start offering accessibility services to my clients? How do I build it into what I’m already doing?”

Okay, maybe she didn’t ask it quite like that, but it’s how I want to remember it, so give me that,
at least, okay?

We weren’t talking about getting started with the concepts and principles of accessibility. That’s pretty straightforward and from our conversation she had a decent grasp of those concepts and the need for accessibility. We’re talking about integrating accessibility into your own work, no matter what it is
that you do.

As web craftspeople, we touch almost all aspects of a project. It can easily become overwhelming to think of everything that we need to take into account for accessibility. So much so, that it can become a complete bottleneck to actually making any progress with accessibility.

Start With One Thing

Thinking about it a bit more, I had to tell her that the most sane way to get more accessibility into your work is to start with one thing. Choose to do everything, and you may end up accomplishing nothing.

Many of us are soloists. Generalists. Others are specialists or one of many other-ists. You leave your mark on whatever it is that you do. It could be writing and content strategy, visual design, information architecture, mapping out process flows, or even just getting stuck in, up to the elbows in code.

Regardless of your role on a team, or–as a soloist–the particular hat you’re wearing at any given time, accessibility needs to be part of what you’re considering. Ultimately, if we consider accessibility everywhere, we’d be in an ideal scenario. We’d know that accessibility was taken into account at the content, design, implementation and strategic levels. I know that isn’t always feasible. Reality is that even if you can’t consider it everywhere, you can consider it in one place or on one task where you hadn’t before. Do so, and you’re doing better work, period.

What Can You Do?

If you’re working on content, do a jargon hunt and explain terms that need it. Look for directionality (“click the link to the left”) and content associations that are dependent on layout. Think about accessibility statements and accessibility help as part of the content.

If you’re wireframing or envisioning process flows, consider how you’re going to communicate the “state” of the system to someone that can’t see. What are the requirements for people that can’t hear for that tutorial video you’re thinking of adding?

If you’re coding, think of how someone that exclusively uses the keyboard will activate that uber widget you’re building. What about someone that is filling out that form and can only type 1 keystroke every 3 or 4 seconds because they’re using a mouth wand?

If you’re designing a visual, think about what your intent is. What are you trying to communicate with that visual, and sort out in your head how you’ll express that someone that can’t see the visual–even if it is something as simple as a navigation state.

No, this is not an exhaustive list. But if you consider just one more accessibility angle than you did before, you’re moving in the right direction. That’s what I told Andrea when we met on Monday. It’s what I’d
tell you, too.

Ask yourself: Which one step can I take to add more accessibility into the work I’m already doing?

About the Author

Derek has been consulting, speaking, and writing about accessibility for more than a decade. As founder of Simply Accessible, he and his team help companies improve their designs and integrate accessibility into their creative processes.

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