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Emma
Emma

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Who is responsible for Accessibility?

Before I became a Software Engineer, I worked as a decorator. I did a course in Construction Skills and part of that was studying for the test to get my Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card; a Health and Safety certification required for working on construction sites in the UK.

It’s been quite a while since I was a decorator now and I’ve probably forgotten most of the answers to the CSCS questions but one thing I do remember is my tutor’s daily repetition of one question and answer:

Q: Who is responsible for health and safety?
A: Everyone.

A man shouts "Everyone"

Given how dangerous a construction site can be, it's important everyone knows how to work safely. It's the employer's responsibility to provide the correct PPE (Personal Protective Equipment, I'm sure we're all familiar with that acronym since the pandemic...), training, procedures and equipment but it's up to everyone on site to use and follow them correctly too.

No matter what your role is on site, you are responsible for the health and safety of yourself and those around you.

Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane stand side by side as Jane says "Uh oh, someone just put us in a position of responsibility

As I’ve become more involved in all things a11y (accessibility), I've seen how the same concept can be applied here.

Who is responsible for accessibility?

Everyone.

When I first became a developer and started learning about accessibility, I thought of it in purely dev terms - I was a developer so it’s my responsibility to make my code accessible. As I learned more, I thought about it as both a developer and a QA’s responsibility. After all, someone has to test the code to make sure it’s accessible.

When I encountered a11y violations with colours, contrast and text, I began thinking about it from a UX point of view and at that stage, I knew enough to realise it was much wider ranging than that.


Everyone, though? Really?

Mr Spock frowns in confusion, raises a surprised eyebrow then walks away bemused

Yes!

I’m thinking about the roles that I’ve encountered in the companies I’ve worked for and multiple examples across different areas come to mind.

Marketing and Content teams can ensure their content is clear and easy to understand for people with different levels of comprehension and reading abilities.

BAs can help make sure accessibility requirements are included and advocated for in planned work.

People teams can make hiring and onboarding processes inclusive for disabled people by providing job descriptions and other important information in multiple formats.

These are just a few examples that occurred to me but I hope it illustrates how everyone can play a part in making, not just websites, but companies more accessible.

Homer Simpson raises both fists in the air in triumph and shouts "Woohoo!"

We can achieve much more when we think about accessibility beyond the limits of development work and we learn much more when we open up spaces for non-technical people to join in. The most successful accessibility programmes are those that don't limit involvement to developers but instead are a truer reflection of the multiple roles that make up many teams.

Thanks for reading, let me know what your thoughts are below!

A happy animated crab types quickly on a keyboard before clicking a mouse

Discussion (4)

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Awesome post all around, I totally agree with your premise!

We can achieve much more when we think about accessibility beyond the limits of development work and we learn much more when we open up spaces for non-technical people to join in.

This is such a good point. I really think that accessibility is a job for everyone, not just developers, but product managers, designers, and everybody on the ops side as well.

Certainly as a community manager, I find accessibility to be very important. We pride ourselves on being an empathetic, inclusive community here and we can't properly do that unless we're all regularly thinking about accessibility and intently listening to feedback from folks with disabilities that are using our site.

There are so many things that I as a non-developer should be tuned into:

  • using descriptive alt text for images
  • being aware of and avoid using ableist language in posts we share as a company or I share personally + trying to steer other folks in the right direction when I notice that they might've used similar language
  • writing up feature requests whenever I realize that we can improve the accessibility of our platform

To be honest, I'm sure there is more I could do in this regard and am so open for that feedback!

I fully agree that accessibility is everyone's responsibility. It's important for everyone to keep it top of mind and continually think about the user experience for a disabled person.

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horrorofpartybeach profile image
Emma Author

Thanks Michael! Those are great ideas for things you can do to help. You have play a key role as a Community Manager and it's great to see your commitment to accessibility, it really shows through in the way the Dev community is so inclusive!

I think it's very easy for us as developers to only focus on the code but I started an Accessibility Guild in my last company and the real progress happened when we brought tech and non-tech people together.

I recently gave a talk about the experience of co-founding that guild and that then led me to be on the Accessibility Council in my new company. Our aim is to eventually place Accessibility Champions in each team and it could be that that person isn't technical but can still advocate and advise on accessibility.

Ultimately, the main goal should be creating space for disabled people and facilitating self-advocation; representation matters and the more disabled people are fully included in tech spaces, the faster and more accurately we'll see real progress.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

I really appreciate your kind words! I feel so lucky to have an organization that gets it and I'm so happy we've put resources to hiring an awesome a11y specialist, @s_aitchison. 🙌

I really dig the idea of having Accessibility Champions on every team! The way that you have organized this sounds so awesome and it's great to hear that your org was open to it. I think most folks want to create with accessible experiences when they actually take the time to think about it, it's just that it too frequently gets overlooked; having someone dedicated in each department who is regularly thinking about it and reminding folks to keep a11y top of mind, sounds like a great idea to combat that complacency!

By the way, do you happen to have your talk recorded somewhere cause I'd really like to check it out if possible? If it's on YouTube, you can actually embed it here on DEV using our embed syntax {% embed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yPagRrAgIU&list %} but also totally cool to just link me to it if you'd prefer. If it's not online, no worries at all!

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horrorofpartybeach profile image
Emma Author • Edited on

Thanks again! I can't take the credit for starting the Accessibility Champions concept in my new company, as far as I know it originated with the Head of QA, which illustrates the importance of collaboration across roles. We've got a small core counsel of about 5, including myself, who are in different roles and we're currently gathering research across the company to plan the best way forward with the programme.

I do have a link to the talk, it's available on youtube at youtube.com/watch?v=v1pXxoi1pyE

It's actually several talks that xDesign arranged for Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2022, my talk starts around the 2hr 9min mark but the other talks were brilliant and I highly recommend checking them out too.

It's also great to see Dev hiring an accessibility specialist, I think that's a role we'll start to see more and more in different companies, especially as more people take up the IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals) certifications - something I hope to do this year myself!