I can't believe I've reached my 7th year of working as a front end developer, which has afforded me some perspective I never thought I'd have.
I'm activately engaging with developers fresh out of bootcamp, and recognize bits of me I used to have – an insatiable curiosity, an eagerness to solve problems, and transforming fear into excitement when faced with a unique challenge.
Don't get me wrong, I still have them. I just have them for different things now. Instead of being fixated on a more performant function, I channel my energy toward shedding light on who's underserved by the products we build. As the World Wide Web Consortium said:
Can you believe that? The ability to access the internet has been around for a quarter of a century, yet we are still refining its form for everyone. Every day, we make the internet a little worse due to a lack of knowledge or consideration. Some argue it's due to a lack of time or information, but that's complete bullshit.
If you can Google search your back aches for the tenth straight day, you can figure out how to make a website accessible. Accessibility information and strategy is so widely made available and free because advocates desperately want to remove barriers for people who unknowingly build barriers. It's out there for the taking. And not taking, is a choice.
I remember a manager once telling me that a task ticket I wrote to make something accessible was viewed as a distraction, as "why would we pour resources into this if it's already built and usable?".
"By whom?" I'd clap back. I provided evidence of users annoyed, frustrated, and above all, excluded. Accessibility remediation would be tossed by the wayside for more "profitable" features, and no one to support my efforts.
Why didn't I just defy project management and just do them anyway? On my own time? And what, channel my time toward clean-up that was not valued, and get criticized for not prioritizing the "profitable" features? How is that fair – do cause-based things, but do them for free, and do them quietly? Do a thankless job, saving your asses from fines and lawsuits, and when performance review time comes round, be accused of not prioritizing the arbituary shiny new features?
Don't get me wrong. I want businesses to profit, too. And accessibility work yields so much profit, sometimes without even much effort. But it boils down to 2 things:
- Education and guidance. When builders (designers, developers, product) are informed about what it takes to build accessibly, they will build it accordingly.
- Leader sponsorship. This isn't just slapping a "we value accessibility" bumper sticker on your proverbial company car. This is investing time, money, and resources behind the work. This is hiring the right people and compensating them fairly. This is recognizing that internet access is a human right.
I guided a team to build a nested site navigation to be screen-reader and keyboard accessible, in less than a week. They are now not afraid to run a screen-reader every time they build a piece of user interface. They intuitively use the keyboard only. They critically assess without prompting.
They are living proof that it's not hard. It's not impossible. They succeeded because they had leadership support, and the most infectious positive attitude toward making the internet better for everyone. That's the most important and underrated piece of this whole garbage fire – attitude.