A Web Accessibility Primer and The Accessible Editor

Web accessibility isn’t a new topic in the industry — it’s been floating around since the beginning, and has been a major topic of user experience and inclusion over the past decade and longer. And while Blend has always gone into a project with the idea that it’s going to be mobile friendly, search friendly, and accessible, we’d never actually formalized our knowledge base to help our clients understand why accessibility and the inclusive web are important.

This past year we sought to change that. We focused on making the idea of web accessibility clearer for our current and potential clients. With this came a need for standardization — within the CMSs we use, in the terms we use to describe things, and in our process for checking, double checking, and training the next owners of the site.

This culminated in a lengthy primer on what accessibility is. Written with help from my fellow Blend teammates, the primer dives into the concepts of accessibility, how it relates to our work, and what clients need to know from a bird’s eye view.

An excerpt, from a section on how web accessibility is handled during the content and design phase:

From the outside, accessibility looks like a design issue, and that view isn’t wrong. Designing a site in a way that’s viewable and consumable for those who can’t view or consume content in the traditional way requires more than just bigger font. It means allowing users to navigate the site — in a logical order — using keyboards or assistive devices. It means making sure design isn’t a detriment to the site, and instead confirming its usefulness to both those with disabilities and those without.

This also lands on the content design team, who suss out accessibility issues during the content strategy process. Through site planning and wireframes, the content team helps the design team understand the function of where content will live and how it will be organized — important knowledge that helps facilitate a logical site structure, heading levels, navigation patterns, and site functionality.

(What do we mean by a logical site structure? We mean organizing headings in the same way that your research paper were organized in high school — main points, supporting arguments, and proper heading levels that a screen reader can understand. We mean using descriptive links that say exactly where the user will go, instead of “Click Here!” or “Read More!” We mean uncovering elements of the page in the order they are to be read, not in a random order dictated by location or which point they were added in the development process.)

There are a lot of areas where web design and content have evolved past print, and accessibility is at the heart of much of it. Which is why it’s so important to find a web design firm — or hire web designers for your internal staff — that can be confident in their design choices and provide a bit of pushback to old, non-accessible design standards. While web design can still push boundaries, becoming more than just boxes on a grid, there needs to be a balance between edgy and usable. There needs to be someone who can stand up when the carousels and weird fonts are broken out, and take up the charge on the side of web accessibility.

You can read Web Accessibility: A Primer at Blend’s site.

While I will never claim to be an accessibility expert in terms of how sites are built and what is needed during front- and back-end development, the past several years have put me face-to-face with tons of editorial accessibility issues, from site editors struggling with the concept of alternate text (what should it be, when should I use it, when can I ignore it) to not understanding the purpose of heading levels in a page of content.

I wanted to help. So, as part of our accessibility initiative, I’ve created an editor-centered workshop focused on accessibility issues that can be controlled from within the CMS — everything from proper web writing to better titles to descriptive links and alternative text.

And I’m taking the show on the road:

Can’t make either conference? Do not worry. A blog post will be forthcoming. I know you are excited.