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From div to button, and beyond - my a11y journey

Dec 07 2021

AccessibilityGettingStarted

Hi everyone, today I am going to talk about my accessibility journey:

  • about what kind of developer I was before I really knew anything about accessibility,
  • the point when i came to know about accessibility, and
  • how it changed my perspective towards looking at things and coding.

I created a YouTube video on this, so you can watch it at embed below, or read on if you would like a written version of it.

Check out youtube video

So, let's get started.

The start

I started my career as software engineer in October 2013 and soon I was assigned a frontend developer role in one of the projects.

It was a very nice project and we were doing a lots of good things.

But, whenever I was coding, the one thing which I never knew about was accessibility. I had never read about it in college, in any curriculum, and I did got to know learn it in any of the trainings either. I am not sure if anyone in my team also mentioned anything about it.

I remember a very nice feature which we implemented in our product which was respecting the color schemes of user settings.

We had multiple color schemes for our website and there was also a grayscale.

I was really fascinated by it, but at that point in time I did not know that it was one of the accessibility features.

So, we were doing very nice things, but personally as a developer I do not think I was really doing things the right way, specifically from accessibility perspective.

Because, I do recall that whenever I had to create some icon only buttons or links, I might just use span, or div.

And, I would test it just with mouse. I never really bothered to test it with keyboard, or any other assistive technologies.

I thought I was doing great. I was really working on some cool features, cool things.

Fast forward to year 2019

The year when I joined twitter. And then I came across a term called GAAD, or Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

This day is celebrated every year to get everyone talking and thinking and learning about accessibility, about digital access and inclusion, about the disabled people.

There are lots of events which get carried out during this period. So I came across one of the events where the presenters were talking about 101 of accessibility.

I joined the session and they gave a very high level overview of accessibility.

My first learning about accessibility

And that was like, you know, when reality hits you kind of moment for me.

So, my reaction was like - I was really really very much surprised that this is such an important thing and I have never really known about it till this point in time.

And also, I was feeling guilty, I was feeling really really guilty.

It was like all your coding decisions are flashing in front of you - like all the things that I might have made inaccessible.

And I was like Oh dear God! I have, like, made so many in accessible things in the past and this is just not acceptable.

Well, it was a very bizzare feeling and but I decided to learn more about it. I thought that, okay, now I know something about it. I have a starting point and I decided to explore more about it.

The road to explore more

So I came across one of the resources as shared in the event, a website named a11y-101

It gives a very high level overview of accessibility and it is targeted towards the beginners. I read everything that was there: what a11y is about, why should I care about accessibility and they had this very nice example about how accessibility benefits everyone.

Accessibility benefits everyone

It's a very nice example where previously the pavements along the streets were not lowered down to the street level when they ended. And that's why whenever the nannies who were carrying the babies sleeping in the strollers would get down from the pavements, the babies would wake up and start crying.

Now someone came up with the idea of lowering the pavement to the street level at the junctions. And, due to this, babies were no longer crying.

But, did it just benefit those nannies who were carrying the babies?

No.

It benefited a lot of broader people.

It benefited people who were using wheelchairs, it benefited elderly people, the people who were using the wheeled walkers, the cyclists. So almost everyone.

This is an example which shows that whatever we create always benefits a broader section of people.

Closed captions

Now, if we think about an example of closed captions - the vidoes having closed captions is an accessibilty feature.

If someone cannot hear, they can still read the closed caption and understand what is going on in that video.

But, does it just benefit the deaf people?

No.

It benefits a lots of people.

Like, if someone is watching a video in a language which they do not understand.

Let's say I am watching a movie which is in French, I don't know French. But still if there are closed captions available for it, in a language which I understand, like English, then I can still understand what is going on in that video.

So it helps a broader group of people and that's why

every feature which is made with accessibility in mind ends up benefiting a lots of people.

Took a course

So I had a very nice learning out of it, and then I started exploring more. I also took a course on pluralsight which was named Web accessibility: Getting started.

It was a one and a half hour course but it really gave me the boost and what I wanted to know. The instructor, Brian Tresse, does a vey nice job at explaining different ways in which we can design, code, and test with accessibility in mind.

Discussion with others

When I started learning about accessibility, I also started discussing about it with people around me.

I would ask my colleagues and my friends, did they know about accessibility?

Answers which I got to know were:

Some would say that - Yes, I think accessibility is for blind people.

Some others would say that I know it is very complex and we normally do it at the last sprints of releases.

Some also told that yeah accessibility is generally not a requirement for all the projects, it's only when you have a certain user base. For example, our project is too complex. I am not sure if the blind people will be using this anyways. Hence, we do not need to think about accessibility.

Let me tell you - these all are myths.

I realised that not much people know really about accessibility and that's why they have certain types of misconceptions about it.

So, I decided to talk about it.

I messaged some of the meetups in Pune, India and told them that Hey, I have a topic in mind for talk on accessibility, and I would like to present it at the meetup, because I feel that not much developers in India know a lot about accessibility.

One of the meetups called ReactJS and Friends accepted my talk.

I really want to thank the host, Vipul, who accepted my talk.

Gave talk on introduction to accessibility

So, I went there on 23rd of November and I talked about Introduction to Accessibility.

I was scared how it would be perceived.

But, after chatting with the audience, I got to know that they were excited and willing to explore more about accessibility.

Feedbacks

And, some of the feedback included that - Hey, it's good that you talked about it.

I never knew that accessibility was so important.

And, some other people, they also told that - Hey, we always thought that it was something complex, and there are certain dedicated developers for it.

We never knew, that it is job of everyone of us to do this.

And then I realised that there is not much awareness about accessibility and if we start to talk a lot about accessibility then, maybe we get more developers, designers, testers, and everyone else, on board.

I also wrote a small blog post called -

Increasing awareness serves the best chance to achieve accessibility for all.

My journey beyond

So, that was my starting point and then I kept on talking about accessibility, on multiple topics in accessibility in various meetups and conferences all around the world.

Most of my talks are available on YouTube, and I have created a playlist with my tech talks.

Now that I have talked about my journey with accessibility, I would like to take some moments to talk about accessibility and some of the resources which could be useful in exploring accessibility.

Resources

I have curated some resources which I find helpful while learning more about a11y at explore-a11y website


That's all for today, thanks for reading.

Stay safe, take care, and make sure that whatever you are building, build with accessibility in mind.