The Accessible Editor: Part Six — Some Final Thoughts

Previously: Part Five — Inside the WYSIWYG: Headings and Descriptive Links

In my presentation, we used the last five minutes or so to discuss how to integrate accessibility into our organizations. But, really, it manifested as a rallying cry: this is a thing we can do, and the only thing stopping us is that we’re too afraid to take the first step.

Talking About Change

At the root of nearly every web problem is the idea of change. Change in how we handle things internally. Change in how we work through problems. Change from what we were taught, or what we’ve assumed.

In order for accessibility work to be handled effectively in our editing processes, that work first has to become something of company priority.

This is because, in almost every sense, updating and creating content for accessibility is an issue of time. It takes extra time to review content, and it takes extra time to think about someone beyond your own mind. It takes time, and so time needs to be allocated.

Which can be a tricky topic to approach: in essence, asking for better support for editorial accessibility means asking for more budget and more attention. It’s asking someone to take this on their shoulders and champion not just the obvious examples, but everyone who might come in contact with your site: not enough just to pass the tests, but enough to provide a true positive user experience.

The first step is helping people understand one of the common themes throughout all of these posts: accessible content doesn’t just cater to specific needs. It’s just … good content. It’s the kind of content that gets noticed. It’s the kind of content, that, frankly, we get embarrassed we aren’t doing in the first place.

It doesn’t help that accessibility is a lightning rod. No one wants to admit that they’ve made a mistake and willingly (or unwillingly) excluded someone through non-inclusive design. There’s a tendency to get defensive on accessibility mistakes.

I get this. I look back on some of the first projects I’ve ever worked on, and it’s not the spelling errors or bad strategy that I am embarrassed by: it’s the fact that I was so self-centered in my worldview that I un-willingly included non-inclusive language and design in the sites I helped build.

But that’s the past. Don’t worry about those mistakes.

Fix them. Make them better.

Instead, worry about the mistakes that could come up in the future, and protect yourself against those. There’s nothing we can do to fix the past, so start working toward the present and beyond.

When non-accessible writing comes across your desk, help to make it better. Explain why it matters. Don’t get mad, don’t get haughty. Just help everyone get better.

Some Accessibility Workflow Updates

Making accessibility a priority is the biggest hurdle. After that, everything else we can do to integrate accessible editor practices is commonplace. We have the following suggestions.

  • Implement a checklist — Does your organization have a checklist or guide for creating content? Even if that guide is only five quick bullet points long, it should include the word “accessibility?” Right there next to “make sure spelling is okay” and “confirm we’re using the right brand terms” we should also see “is this content accessible.”
  • Employ a second set of checks — Then, make sure you run that content by a second person. Even if you already think it’s perfect, run it by another set of eyes.
  • When we work with clients, we hope that accessibility ends up being a larger part of the content creation experience, but we understand that it’s not always going to be that easy. We understand even if we train every person on what to do, only a few will take part — not because they maliciously hate people with disabilities, but because they will never make it enough of a part of their job to remember what to do. This second set of checks keeps everyone involved, while also providing a nice set of checks and balances.
  • Create an accessibility champion — Still, someone needs to be in charge. So create a person who can champion accessibility with all site content. An accessibility guru or a ninja or whatever titles we’re using on LinkedIN these days. Someone who is responsible for the main details.
  • Remember, even if everyone is excited about accessibility after the initial training period, it will slowly fade into the background over time. The champion’s job is to make sure that it doesn’t. They are granted the ability to make changes based on accessibility best practices. They are the last line of defense.
  • Make accessibility part of your education — Finally, empower your accessibility champion to keep up with the times. Send them to accessibility conferences, support their practice with better tools. Do what it takes, because this person will then keep everyone else up to date.

And, Yet, This Isn’t The End

Man, there’s so much more.

Accessibility is not a thing you can tackle in an hour. In a day. Even over time you’ll find things changing, updating. You’ll get better and better at what you need to do, but nothing can be perfect.

I want you to come away with three things from this talk and this series of posts. Three high-level ideas that really work to change our perception of accessibility in our writing and our content model.

Understand Accessibility’s Reach

I want you to understand accessibilities reach. That it goes beyond the blind and deaf. That it belongs to anyone who is in an environment that might differ from yours. Someone who is just learning English. Someone who has a broken arm. Someone living in poverty with a slow (or no) broadband connection.

Give People Options

I want you to see that, really, accessibility is all about options. About understanding that providing both a video and a transcript adds a benefit. That images aren’t the only way to convey understanding. That we need multiple ways into our content just like a building needs multiple ways in for different ability types.

Be Clear and Concise

I want you to understand that the most accessible content is clear and concise content. Clear and concise content is easier to translate. It is easier to understand by wider range of reading levels. It makes things easier and clearer, especially for those who are already struggling through web containers and systems that aren’t built with their needs in mind.

Be Okay With Grey Areas

I’ll go ahead and throw in a fourth here, as well. Be okay with grey areas.

Accessibility is not a checkbox. It is not a binary issue.

And that’s hard.

When we learn to write, we learn rules. We learn rules in writing because knowing the basics is important. It’s what helps us shape language.

But the basics can’t solve every problem. Creativity and judgement are needed to make decisions. To take chances. And while we don’t often see web writing as a place where chances are taken, we have to understand that there is a balance to what we do. There are the rules. And then there is the interpretation of those rules.

That interpretation, frankly, scares the shit out of a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to be hard: all we need is to understand that the grey areas are only grey to those of us living without disabilities.

Someone who cannot see – there’s no grey area. They know exactly what works and what doesn’t.

Someone with a broken arm knows exactly why it’s difficult to key through a site.

Someone who grew up in another country understands exactly why the complicated instructions on their insurance company’s website are difficult to translate.

We’re afraid to be wrong. But we don’t have to be. For years, the bare minimum was enough, but not anymore.

Instead, we need to put ourselves into the minds of those who will be encountering our bare minimum. And then we need to shoot for something better.

Not perfect. Just better.

So let’s get out there and start making things better today.