November 2 – 3, 2022 was WordPress Accessibility Day 2022. This free, volunteer-run virtual global event provided opportunities for attendees to learn about the best practices for creating accessible WordPress websites, but the general discussion of accessibility on the internet was front and center in all panel discussions.
ITX was a proud sponsor for this event, and team members from across the company – and around the globe – participated. With 24 hours of interesting panels and world-renown experts sharing their experiences, our team was eager to participate and absorb and learn all that we could.
So, what did we learn at WordPress Accessibility Day?
“Accessibility is not about tech – it’s about people.”
Nicolas Steenhout, keynote speaker, offered this declaration during the event’s first session. Not to dimmish the impact that technology has on creating an accessible space, but to remind us – designers, developers, users – that we shouldn’t be using the technology to create even more confusion for users.
It’s a similar sentiment shared by recent Product Momentum Podcast guest Sheri Byrne-Haber, and both of these accessibility champions possess the tenure to speak with authority on the subject. Steenhout is a pioneer in web accessibility, having worked in this community since the mid-90s. While today he serves as a consultant for private and non-profit organizations, he still remembers the “aha” moments early in his career that encouraged him to pay close attention to accessibility going forward.
In his professional work, Steenhout encounters clients and customers who, despite their interest in improving their product’s accessibility, remain resistant to change. He hears a common question – “how many disabled people are there?” He explains that the clients who ask this aren’t really asking for a number, they’re gauging whether accessibility is a worthwhile investment or not.
To that, Steenhout counters with questions of his own, for example: “What is the oldest browser you support? What is the percentage of visits you get from that browser?” These data-driven queries set up the fact that the small percentage of users who utilize an older browser is dwarfed in comparison to the number of users with disabilities in the world.
We love creative explanations and responses, and this is a particularly powerful reply to clients who are looking at every factor of accessibility but excluding the people they should be serving.
“Would you build your office space without a doorknob?”
A silly question, for sure. But one that brings perspective to a conversation with clients. Because of course they wouldn’t – how would anyone get into the building? It was the question raised in “Selling Accessibility to Skeptical Clients.” The panel, featuring Colleen Gratzer, Chris Hinds, and Rob Howard, explored how they are navigating the conversation around implementing accessibility with particularly difficult clients.
As Steenhout mentioned in his keynote, clients and prospects can be wary when adopting accessibility. Some may be unaware of the rich benefits; others may be hesitant due to the corresponding price tag. Still others daunted by the idea of starting from scratch.
Consultants face an uphill battle when convincing wary clients to design with accessibility. If they don’t have the reasons to prove why digital accessibility is important, or if they are dealing with particularly stubborn clients, the panelists agreed that you can’t force the issue.
Usually, a question about doorknobs is the enlightening query that convinces anyone who’s listening why accessibility should be a vital component of a website or product. If that doesn’t work, they advise establishing clear guidelines as to why they are making the design choices, and work to the best of their ability.
“People are not aware of the experience of using the web with a screen reader.”
This was the opening remark from Lazar Bulatovic. “Since I started being part of the accessibility community, I was shocked on one side and amazed on the other.” In the “Boost up conversions with accessible eCommerce” panel, Lazar joined Anne-Mieke Bovelett and Piccia Neri to demonstrate to the audience the experience of using the internet with a screen reader.
An obvious obstacle appeared instantly. As Lazar navigated to a website and turned on his screen reader, we were all stunned when the voice reader began reciting the descriptive text without pause. An onslaught of information with no rhyme or reason.
The culprit was a slider on the homepage with an automatic transition feature. As soon as the screen reader finished with the descriptive text on one slide, it was time to recite the text on the next. It was chaotic and distracting, to say the least.
An error on the company’s side, one that should hopefully be remedied soon. (Note: At the time of writing this blog, the slider was still on the webpage.)
ITX attendees were particularly interested when we noticed this eCommerce-centric panel on the WordPress Accessibility Day schedule. We have experience working on eCommerce projects, and we wanted to better understand the common challenges through the lens of the visually impaired user. We didn’t expect to witness such an egregious error right out the gate, but it was a powerful demonstration of the challenges that users who rely on screen readers face daily.
“Alt-text isn’t just for visually impaired users.”
Why should we use alt-text?
Alt-text is a tool to aid users who are unable to see or understand an image on a webpage. While it was developed to provide information that a screen reader can recite for users, there are other benefits to this tool, according to Meg Miller. They shared this line of thinking in their panel, “The Alt Scene: When and How to Write Alternative Text.”
- Search Engine Optimization: Search engine crawlers scour pages to properly rank them in search engines. The more information on a page related to what a user is searching for, the better that page will rank. An image that has related and descriptive alt-text will bolster your page’s ranking.
- Slow loading pages: If a page crashes before all elements are fully loaded, images are left behind with a blank shape left in its place. In these situations, alt-text loads instead, so all users can understand what the image was meant to be, instead of wondering what it could be.
Meg provided examples of what bad, good, and great alt-text looks like, as well as advice on when to use it and what to write. Their presentation empowered our team as we create more content that will be designed to serve all users.
“Perfect is the enemy of good.”
Listening to the various subject-matter experts share their knowledge and experiences on WordPress Accessibility Day filled our team with new information and fervent inspiration. We joined the various panels to deepen our knowledge in our roles and help us grow as we provide value-creating service. Our expectations were exceeded.
If you came away from WordPress Accessibility Day feeling overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of the information shared, you’re in good company. But fear not.
And keep in mind a piece of advice from Anne-Mieke Bovelett: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Attempting to tackle all aspects of accessibility at once is daunting. Identify each need one at a time, and work with a team to address those needs one at a time. Research various guides, resources, and tools that will enable you to get started with creating accessible products and experiences.
Getting involved in different communities and attending events like WordPress Accessibility Day is a valuable way to connect with other passionate learners who seek to create rich experiences for all.
We would be more than happy to get you started on a path to accessible design. ITX offers a variety of services including website audits, and 1:1 consultation. Get started today.