Web Accessibility Apprentice

I think I’m pretty good at writing HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. I think I’ve got a decent idea of how people use the web. I think I know a few things about web accessibility.

I don’t think I’m a web accessibility expert. I don’t think that I should stop talking, writing, or trying to improve the knowledge of others about web accessibility.

There are many people I admire who know a lot more than I about web accessibility. Collectively they are a community of sorts. Sometimes I get to be a part of that community, and that’s nice. It would be nice if more people were included, that having an interest and desire to learn were the prerequisites, not an existing level of knowledge. I try to foster that in my own communities, such as at the place I work. There are other people who do the same, and I respect them more for it.

There is often a lack of knowledge of the fundamental aspects of web accessibility outside of the community. Lots of attempts to change that have been made by the community. It hasn’t really worked very well.

I don’t know what the answer is.

Maybe some of the people who are considered experts in mainstream web development could talk about it a bit more, perhaps not talk about it as esoteric knowledge, but as part of the normal set of skills a web developer is expected to have. They’ll probably get things wrong sometimes. They could have their content peer reviewed before they publish, but perhaps if they are getting things wrong then most developers are also getting things wrong so maybe it’s worth starting the conversation anyway.

The people who consider themselves web accessibility experts as well as those people who just have a bit of knowledge could join the conversation, perhaps take advantage of the larger audience and help more people learn.

It’s been a long time in web terms since I started out as a web developer. I was very bad at it at first. I got a lot of things wrong, and I didn’t even know it. I read articles by people I respected. I learnt that there was a right way to do things. Sometimes more than one right way. Other people I respected, and some that I hadn’t heard of but who had something to say, would discuss the benefits of each and knowledge was shared. I don’t remember reading a lot of HTML blogs, or JavaScript blogs, or CSS blogs, or accessibility blogs. They existed of course, but mostly I just read web development blogs. It seemed to work. I got better at my job.

Sometimes those people made mistakes. They still make mistakes. I know I do, even with all of the knowledge they’ve shared with me. Perhaps I, and others who have benefited from a better, more knowledgeable industry that still has a long way to go should help them in return. Yes, I should do that a lot more. I hope I’ll do that in the same way they did when they educated me: with patience and encouragement, not exclusion and criticism.

I’ve met quite a lot of the people who taught me how to do my job the right way over the years. Some of them I know well enough to have a drink with. A few of them I consider friends. I haven’t thanked them enough. I’ll start doing that more.

8 thoughts on “Web Accessibility Apprentice”

  1. Thank you Ian for the great post.

    I truly believe this community (shall I dare say, our community) would be much better off if it showed more openness and tolerance to the “others” who don’t get accessibility yet.

    Instead of being frustrated and bitter that these people don’t get it yet or wouldn’t be bothered, we should just focus on being grateful that WE got it early enough to become leaders in that field.

    But not in the sense that we should brag about it, no. In the sense that we can be shepherds for those lost web folks who have not yet been struck by the lightning of digital equality. ;p

    We all know that someday, they’ll get it too, whether they realize it or not. If it’s not because they develop an interest for #a11y, it will be because they’ll be using tools that will become increasingly better at doing it for them. Maybe it will be because they’ll get older themselves and will slowly understand what’s in it for them. Who knows. And who cares really. The final outcome is much more important than how some of us get there.

    Mobility and aging of population are just two of the reasons why accessibility will become more and more unavoidable. We must continue to keep an open mind about this and share as much as possible. To me, this is the underlying message in your post today.

    Yes, we make mistakes along the way, and it’s perfectly ok. This is how we learn. We have a saying in french that says: “à l’impossible, nul n’est tenu”. That would pretty much translate to “nobody is required to accomplish the impossible”. We can only get better at what we’re doing by making mistakes. What’s important is learning from these mistakes, learn not to repeat them and do all we can to help others avoid them.

    I think this is all that really matters. We will only change the face of digital inclusion by persevering in getting the message out there, one little best practice at a time. And keeping in mind that at some level, we are and will always be web accessibility apprentices.

    Cheers mate!

  2. Thank you Ian. Thank you for writing this post, for reminding me what it’s all about, and most of all thank you for doing it in your patient and encouraging way.

  3. Hi Ian,
    I respectfully disagree. You ARE an expert. And acknowledging that you don’t know everything only makes you EVEN BETTER 🙂

    Thanks for the great post Mate 🙂

  4. This is a great post and really hits close to home.. While I do consider myself to be quite knowledgable in the field of accessibility, I’m would not call myself an expert. Some time ago I made a conscious decision to focus on this field. Each passing week I come to learn something new or realize that a preconceived notion of what I thought was the proper way to do something, was in fact wrong.

    I used to fear that. I thought being wrong was a bad thing but I’ve come to realize that those inhibitions were only holding me back.

    I happily embrace my “apprenticeship” and will continue to share my knowledge whenever possible.

    I relate to much of what you’ve said & reading your post has validated a number of my own thoughts. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Hi Ian,
    Thank you.
    You have made my day a better one for having read your post.
    As Leonie says, you have reminded me what it’s all about and that is worth the world.

  6. I appreciate your sentiments. I’ve expended a lot of time and effort trying to reach out to an audience of developers who know little or nothing about accessibility but really want to learn…but I’m beginning to wonder whether enough such people exist. Yes, we specialists (I hesitate to describe myself as an expert) can do better at promotion and education, but we need other developers/designers to meet us half way.

  7. Well if you’re an apprentice then I’m on work experience.

    Disclaimer: I work with Ian at BBC and he is my go to man on all things technical.

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