My takeaways from #a11yTO 2020 Conference

A couple of years ago a potential customer demanded accessibility (a11y) in our software. We had little a11y consideration at that time, so started by adding tabIndex and aria-label. I heard the word “accessibility” before but had little knowledge about it. As I read more, I understood it is much more than that, and I became more and more fascinated with it.

#a11yTO 2020 is the first conference Ive attended on this topic. It is virtual because of the year 2020 (I have to get up early since I’m on the west coast). Overall it was a well-organized conference (despite some tech issues). I learned a lot from it, and here are my takeaways from it (I will skip “accessibility is important” as a takeaway):

From top to bottom: the company/organization needs to commit to a11y compliance; the product team needs to prioritize work for a11y; the design team needs to produce accessible design; the development team needs to implement accessible products, the test team needs to test a11y. It is not a one-man-show.

Because of the above point, it’s not possible that a person being heroic and fixing the a11y problem overnight. Everyone should have a11y in mind and the team should have a plan. Also, from experience, there is less overhead when a11y is considered at the beginning than fixing issues afterwards.

It was my favourite quote from one talk. I immediately started to question a feature I am developing (it’s a drag-and-drop feature, and it turned out the library I am using supports keyboard). When talking about a11y, the fundamental thing is about how to use the product. If the product is hard to use by different users, e.g., mouse users, keyboard users, screen reader users, how the product looks doesn’t matter then.

One talk from the conference was about copywriting. It is obvious but important to know that “no one complains that it’s too easy to read”. I resonate a lot: English is my second language and language art has been my nemesis since elementary school, so I appreciate simple language very much. There are tools to help you improve copywriting, such as Readability Analyzer.

One talk is about emoji, which I never thought it has anything to do with a11y. For example, posting a tweet with emoji will cause unexpected behaviour from screen readers. To be honest, I think this is something emoji creator and screen reader should improve, but in the meantime, people should be aware of such issues and probably should avoid using emoji when posting important announcements on social media.

In general, a11y can be very broad and touches lots of areas. From a programming point of view, there are many technologies and tools. One doesn’t have to know everything to begin. An a11y mind is foremost.

At last, be inclusive and bring people together.

(and stay safe!)

A digital poet, casual gamer, ex-YouTuber, baseball fan, Dr.