When they’re not building incredible websites, our technology team is seeking out new ways to use and grow their expertise to not only help our clients but to also develop new approaches to digital platforms across the board.
From VuePress to SVGs and animation, there’s always something new to be discussed technology wise; and last week, our programmers did a roundup on web accessibility. We got talking with Sander to understand more about the ecosystem of building websites that are equipped for assistive technology and beyond.
First things first: can you give us a brief rundown on what web accessibility means?
Web accessibility means designing and building websites with all users in mind. An accessible site respects a user’s time and energy by letting them fully interact with the site using a screen reader, keyboard, mouse, touchscreen, or some combination of inputs—whatever works best for the user!
Cool! Is it becoming more of a norm within tech?
Somewhat, but the tech community can and should do better! It’s still very common to see sites—even some pretty big household names—not providing a complete set of tools for their users.
So what prompted the tech team’s roundup on this topic?
As we’ve switched over to a more modern method of developing websites with VuePress, we noticed an opportunity to make our sites more modular—to write and reuse smaller blocks of code instead of starting from scratch with every website. And since we’re reusing these blocks of code across different sites, we wanted to make them the best quality they code be, which includes making them fully accessible.
A few things. We’re programming for keyboard when we program for mouse. It takes only a little extra work to make sure a user can navigate a site with nothing but a keyboard, so we’re making sure we get it done!
One common example—lots of higher-end design and profile sites only show you you’re hovering over a link if you use the mouse. There might be a really cool animation or transition when you hover using a mouse, but try to navigate those same sites on the keyboard by pressing “tab” and you might not see anything happen at all.
What are some of the major things developers (and designers) should be aware of when it comes to crafting accessible websites?
Design for all users. This means presenting information clearly and concisely, given the bounds of your desired style, and using colors with enough contrast to be readable. It also means recognizing any potentially seizure-inducing periodic flashes or large color changes, as well as keeping users with lower bandwidth or mobile data restrictions in mind. Dumping a load of large images and long videos on your users could cost them money if you’re not careful.
Program for all users. This means including text fallbacks for everything – images, navigation arrows, logos, anything that would otherwise rely solely on visuals to convey information. Practice using your websites with just the keyboard, or just the mouse, or just a screen reader, but even more importantly, seek out and listen to users who regularly work with those tools and pay attention to the things they like and dislike on sites.
Web accessibility seems like a product of smarter technology. How have you seen the conversation and ecosystem around web accessibility shift as tech gets more advanced?
One of the huge potential shifts is in AI. We’re already talking about building an automatic image descriptor that can receive an image as an input, then create a text description of that image, in a fraction of the time it’d take a person to do the same thing. Making accessibility easier for developers and companies just means that it’ll be more widely implemented, fixing an imbalance of information and an unequal experience for users.
Have a project regarding web accessibility? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.