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Sylwia Vargas
Sylwia Vargas

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Tech Notes: "Accessibility is a Requirement" (RailsConf 2021)

What is this post about: As a part of my professional growth, I make time to watch conference talks on Ruby, Rails, JS, React, tech writing, and tech trivia. Previously, I'd just watch them but now I will take and publish notes for future reference. This talk was a part of RailsConf 2021 that I'm participating at the time of writing.

Talk: "Accessibility is a Requirement" by Ryan Boone

One-sentence summary: Accessible web applications reach wider audiences, ensure businesses are in compliance with the law, and, most importantly, remove barriers for the one in seven worldwide living with a permanent disability. But limited time, lack of knowledge, and even good intentions get in the way of building them.

Impression: I loved how tips-packed this talk was!

Table of contents:


  • accessibility is a measure of how simply a person can participate in an activity
  • why bother:
    • Title III [of the Americans with Disabilities Act] prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations" (ADA 1990, Title III)
    • "Across the top one million home pages, 60,090,278 distinct accessibility errors were detected -- an average of 60.9 errors per page" (https://webaim.ors/projects/million)
    • there are more and more virtual a11y lawsuits in recent years (35% spike since the last year)
    • 61 million Americans have a disability that impacts major life activities (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)


  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
  • Content should be POUR: perceivable, operable, understandable, robust
  • I wrote a checklist for those here
  • Perceivable
    • everything that's on the screen should be recognizable by the senses (hearing, seeing, and even feeling if necessary)
    • color contrast can be checked in your browser console - please notice the two white lines in the color picker -- they indicate the colors that will meet the contrast ratio Chrome console's color picker
    • include alt text (if the image is decorative, still keep the alt text tag with a value of "")
    • use hidden text on svg icons (e.g. <span class="sr-only> Navigation Menu </span>) and aria labels to make sure that the icon is easy to understand
    • SVGs are focusable and so you need to disable focus on them (anything that's focusable should be interactive)
    • use semantic html
  • Operable:
    • people should be able to interact with the content in a variety of ways (mouse, keyboard, voice, etc.)
    • include "skip to content" hidden menu that pops up when you use keyboard navigation
    • keep the focus style visible!
    • don't skip header levels
  • Understandable
    • include the lang attribute on your website so the screenreaders will pronounce the words correctly
    • provide clear errors (explicit, rightly-placed with an aria description)
    • use labels on the forms
  • Robust
    • usable on a variety of technologies and contexts, and remain accessible in the future
    • use html validator
    • use semantic html
    • use output element to inform the screen reader of the changes on the website


  • Integrate automated testing in your CICD pipeline
  • Testing tools:
  • Chrome extensions:
  • Atomic Web Design - a component methodology that breaks pages down into a hierarchy of composition (simples and simpler components) until you can't break them down anymore.
  • Web components - a suite of different technologies allowing you to create reusable custom elements — with their functionality encapsulated away from the rest of your code — and utilize them in your web apps
  • RAILS specifically: cells gem - encapsulating parts of your UI into components into view models; view models, or cells, are simple ruby classes that can render templates
  • Screen readers:

Side notes:

  • "The web is for everyone" Sir Tim Berners-Lee
  • "The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect" Sir Tim Berners-Lee

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Top comments (1)

wildgeodude profile image

Really interesting read about a topic I must admit I'm personally not that well versed in!