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Things You Shouldn't Say to a Disabled Person About Why Your App Isn't Accessible

ashleemboyer profile image Ashlee (she/her) Updated on ・2 min read

You can also find this on my blog.

Not that I feel the need to explain myself, but I want to share that I'm hard-of-hearing. It's genetic and just about everyone on my family's maternal side suffers significant hearing loss. I've had hearing aids since I was 10 years old, and as I've grown up, it becomes more and more clear to me how little people understand about the importance of accessibility.

This post is a bit of a rant since all of the below have been said to me personally (all in one conversation, actually 🤦🏼‍♀️). These are all the things I wish I could've said at the time, but you don't always get to speak out when you're like me. It's exhausting, and I'm writing this post as an ask to please be more aware of the things you say and how you say them. You might mean well, but your words can still be incredibly hurtful.

"It's low priority."

That's pretty clear at this point, but why is that? What's your excuse? Is it too hard? Do you not want to spend the time learning about it? Are there not enough of us that exist for you to be concerned about our needs?

"We need to beat competitors to market."

Based on my experience in this industry, I wonder if they are even concerned about accessibility. Consumers value companies that value them. You should be trying to stand out beyond having a large number of software features.

"I get it, but..."

No, you obviously don't. If you did, you wouldn't be saying any of these things to my face. You either think you're super woke or you completely forgot that you're talking to a disabled person. I'm kind of afraid of how you talk about disabled people when you're away from us.

"There's no point if no one is using it."

So, when people start using it, how do you plan on figuring out how many of them need a more accessible tool if we can't actually use it to tell you? We don't have the time for you to play catch up. We'll just go somewhere else.


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Ashlee (she/her)

@ashleemboyer

Disabled Web Developer ⌨️ | HOH 🤟 | Live Knitter 🧶 & Live Coder 👩‍💻 | she/her

Discussion

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Accessibility is the default for me; when I can, I implement things in an accessible way. For analogy, if you're an electrician, the default should be to use the correct gauge wire to prevent fires, to install the right type of receptacle in a washroom, etc.

It's about making the web easier to use for everyone, not just certain people with certain disabilities. Some situations require much more attention, I understand that, but in general, I won't waste time discussing if feature X should be accessible or not. You wouldn't want your electrician asking you if you specifically want the correct gauge wire.

I have protanopia, red-green colour blindness, and always bring to attention any design that is difficult for me to use. But there are also a slew of tools to help with these kinds of things, and it's getting better. You no longer need to be an accessibility expert to make the right choices.

Not that I feel the need to explain myself

Not gonna lie, this sets a bit of a defensive tone to the whole article. I definitely appreciate the explanation though. It would be nice to get more context on the points / rants you made, like what accessibility feature you were discussing, and whether or not it was related to hearing ability.

Also, despite your hearing disability, do hearing aids allow you to use the web without issue?

Thanks for the article!

 

Accessibility should be the default. That’s awesome you have that mentality. ☺️

When I said, “Not that I feel the need to explain myself,” I was trying to come across as, “I don’t mind talking about my disability, this is me making a choice to.” However, this piece is about me defending myself and people like me. I think you’re reading the tone correctly. I’m not trying to be nice about it. 😉

So, the context here is a conversation about making an app more accessible. There was no specific feature, it was for all the features, in general.

As for whether or not my hearing aids help me use the web, it really depends on the quality of audio. Some people put out content that sounds like they’re talking in an empty silo. When I can, I try to use headphones so the sound is directly in my ears. I mostly avoid content without captions though. It’s just too much work when you have to listen to something two or three times or more.

 

This post made me think about accessibility and how much I don't know about it. Could you point me to some, in your opinion good resources on how to get started with accessibility, especially in web apps?

 

I found the following resources to be useful for me:

I read through some articles / tutorials as I needed them and skimmed through others. The Inclusive Components articles are lengthy, but all good reads!

This is also a good reference:

And don't neglect the actual specs when you're stumped on something specific:

And last but not least, get familiar with HTML sectioning:

 

Thank you for sharing all of these links! I need to add them to Google Keep or bookmark them so I can come back later...

 

To add to the other comment:

Also, there are various extensions within all of these links that you can use to test accessibility. Lighthouse is a pretty cool one I learned about through the Gatsby tutorials.

 

We need more accessibility champions in the world of Software Dev! Thanks for this article!

 

Thank you for getting it. 😊

 

So what should someone say? I would probably have said the first one, it's low priority (compared to other things like getting all features in and squashing bugs), so I know not to say that now, but it leaves me with no good answer that comes to mind.

Also, people who aren't disabled don't generally know how to make things more accessible or how wide to go. You mention you have hearing aids, then there are people with visual impairment, people with dyslexia, people with motor control issues, and probably more. Do we cater for everything or draw a line somewhere and how do we draw that line?

 

The point is that there is no good reason not to be accessible. It’s 2019 and there are dozens of resources for learning about how to make your sites and applications accessible. There’s another comment here with a bunch of links to get you started.

 

But to answer your first question, you should be saying, “I’m sorry.”

 

Thank you for writing about this. I feel like a lot more developers need to embrace accessibility.

 

Agree, 100%. It's a lot easier to make sites accessible than we're lead to believe.

 

I thought about accessibility in the last few days. I'm maintaining and developing a rather big software project which often isn't even readable for me. I then feel bad for all the users with visual impairments, who probably have a hard time with that. But this article inspires me to do better, definitely a field where I have to learn a lot more!

 

"You're right, I'm sorry, I will do my part to raise this concern to our team."

  • Everyone in response to anyone who brings up the inaccessibility of said company's product/app/etc.

Practice it in a mirror if you need to, folks.

 
Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

I don't want to come as an insensitive person, but I won't bother myself with a 10 or 20 percent share of the market when I'm having trouble reaching my original niche. Accessibility is a nice addition, when the developer can afford it. There are however, some accessibility features that are easy to implement without going out of your way. It would be a shame not to include these.

Also, understand that disabilities come in a lot of different ways. You'll eventually have to decide how far you are willing to go to make your software accessible, but you won't be able to satisfy every one. But that doesn't make you evil though. Tell me, do you provide Arabic translation of your software? Are you evil for not including (or bothering to include) people who can't read the languages you support?

Each of us can be considered a minority in some way or another. You'll have to come to terms with this. Try not to think of it as offending, since I doubt anybody wants to hurt you intentionally. That's just how to world works. Limited resources push you to abandon everything not deemed absolutely necessary for immediate success.

 

Seriously, the tone policing is really offensive. Just, don’t.

 
Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

How many languages do you know? Picking a language is not like picking something off the floor! And you've just excluded me from your audience! I think you are not being inclusive enough! Finally, I've already told you, nobody intends to hurt your feelings, you are being overly sensitive here. You are nobody's victim. I'm just giving you the practical view of things.

Please, stop. You don’t know me or my life. A language barrier is not the same thing as a body that doesn’t function “normally.”

Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

I don't know you or your life, and this is entirely beyond the point. We are talking about inclusivity here, not about your disability. All I'm saying is that you can't be inclusive enough, but you can sure try. But don't blame the developers that are not making things easier for your kind of disability. I bet they would if they:

  • KNOW about it.
  • Know HOW to handle it.
  • CAN afford handling it.

Even if not for the sake of helping a fellow human being, who wouldn't want the extra traffic? Anyway, I wish you all the best, and I'm sorry if I offended you.

 

I think you should just see yourself out.

 

Someone can learn another language. I can’t train my ears to hear. Not even comparable.

 
Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

Accessibility, reliability, security, etc., even legal compliance, in some rare cases, are features, by virtue of the simple fact that a product can be deployed and used (albeit with limits) without them.

This is part of why working for a start-up or on a new product with no customer base and no funding is not for the faint of heart.

I think we, as developers, designers, or product managers should welcome, rather than shut down, a discussion of how to handle those trade-offs as part of a product roadmap or which to consider as technical or compliance debt.

Those who want to have to deal with fewer trade-offs or trade-offs they'd consider less "brutal," may have more peace of mind working for a larger company in a more established market. I've made such a move, and I sleep better at night.

But I still have sympathy and respect for those in my professional network who still have to make these hard decisions.

 

You realize you’re talking to a disabled developer, right?

Me being able to use a product is not a feature. I’m a member of your audience and if you don’t have an accessible product I literally can’t use it. Accessibility is not a feature. It’s a need and you need it from the beginning.

I work for a startup. We have TWO engineers. I’m still able to work on accessibility in almost every single frontend task I touch. It’s about effort. None of the points in my post are demonstrating effort to be better, and the comment you’re replying to isn’t demonstrating effort either. There’s no discussion happening.

Accessibility isn’t a hard decision and it’s also not a hard thing to implement. A lot of people would rather complain about how hard it is than sit down and actually do the work and research necessary to be a good developer. Learning about accessibility is no different than learning an API or library you’re adding to an app.

Make sure to check out my recent posts on here for proof. You can build, test, AND document accessible components in a matter of hours. You just have to put work into educating yourself.

Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

You realize you’re talking to a disabled developer, right?

I'm not talking to you in my comment above, unless I addressed you? Lest you feel put upon, I wanted to write that for anyone reading this comment thread, not you in particular.

Now, Ashlee Boyer, I'll talk to you.

Accessibility isn’t a hard decision and it’s also not a hard thing to implement.

I could easily say this about information security, encryption, or secrets management in particular. "How hard is it to get a valid TLS certificate, or use commonly available password hashing libraries? Update your OS once in a while!"

Do you, Ashlee Boyer, mean to cast aspersions on the ethics of software developers whose product roadmap does not account for potential exclusion of large portions of potential users?

If you want people to respect you or take you seriously, you should probably refrain from being a smartass. And yes, it is unethical to not make your products accessible. 25% of the population is disabled. Good luck getting sued some day. 👍