Red alphabet decors (Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash)

Rarely do my questions on social media attract a huge response. But this one did:

Question a11y pals: Which sounds better or more precise:

‘accessibility fixes’, ‘accessibility embellishments’ or ‘accessibility improvements

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently and the question:

“Is this … accessible?” I mean, it is for someone…

As I wrote this on Twitter recently, I expected one or two responses but was not prepared for the many contrasting, but equally valid opinions on the topic. My initial thoughts on the matter is that content is always accessible in some sense, in that it can be accessed by someone. So, with the desire to create content that can be accessed by all, what would be the most applicable term to use? The a11y [accessibility] community provided a fascinating discussion. The numerous points of view are a testament to accessibility’s importance, but more crucially the benefit and value it provides for both people and business.

Thanks to Léonie Watson, Denis Boudreau, Alex H, Lori Samuels (@LoriSamuels18), Thea Kurdi (@tkurdi), Jess Kitt O’Loughlin (@JayKittlough), Donna Bungard (@dbungard), Andy Ronksley (@RooRonks), Zoë Bijl and others for a very interesting conversation.

“Embellishments”

Not a favourite, thanks very much. Embellishment sounds like a ‘nice-to-have’ or superfluous, which a11y is often erroneously seen as. Accessibility is literally ‘the ability to access’ something. If they can’t access it (i.e. get to it, get into it, move around it etc..) then it’s useless to them.

“Fixes”

A few commentators agreed on the point that anything that doesn’t meet WCAG standard should be seen as a ‘fix’. Such a position is quite appealing. I mean, standards are there for a reason aren’t they? If you’re a plumber and you mend a leak by wrapping sticky tape around the pipe, then you’re not really adhering to standards are you? (Gosh, that’s a lot of questions one after the other …. isn’t it?) If something isn’t accessible then it’s broken for some user group.

But then again, ‘fix’ sounds finite and let’s face it nothing online is truly done. There will always be another iteration in the offing, another opportunity to reach a larger user base

“Improvements”

If something can be made more usable for a greater number of people, then that’s an improvement. An example of this might be choosing a larger font size for your body copy or increasing the foreground / background colour contrasts that goes beyond the minimum 4.5:1 ratio.

We can continuously improve and cater for larger sections of the online community.

Alex H suggested the term ‘a11y refinements’ in that they express

“ the fact that you are taking something that was already there but refining it further. One could argue that “improving” something has a negative connotation associated to it. Makes me think of grade school “Needs improvement!” “

To conclude …

For me, it’s about knowing when to say “this needs to be fixed” and when to say “a way to improve this would be …”. Context influences accessibility. For example, a page with no logical heading structure is still usable by a blind user but the absence of that hierarchy doesn’t facilitate proficient usability for that specific user group.

I’ll give the (almost) final word to Denis Boudreau:

“Fixes, improvements, solutions. Whatever term you choose, make it a positive one. There are so many terms that we use in our field that yield a negative connotation — it just leaves people with a bad taste in their mouth. This work should be aspirational. Words matter.”

Don’t they?

UX Accessibility Designer