Accessibility advocacy, outline for a strategy
Accessibility is a right---on that we can all agree. But what kind of right is it, exactly? And what are the most effective ways to convince developers to care?
Let me begin with my answer to the first of these two questions. From my point of view, accessibility is first and foremost a moral right. Neglect of it, when resulting from ignorance, must be corrected by means of education. It is a moral duty on the part of universities and training companies to convey upon their students and trainees the moral obligation and technical data associated with this subject. Trainers and educators should be held accountable, and publicly called out in no uncertain terms, for excluding it from their curriculum based on the fact that people with disabilities pay for them with their taxes just as everyone else does.
Conscious disregard for accessibility in spite of better knowledge is a different beast altogether. While single developers or very small companies may simply lack the necessary resources, larger companies are beyond excuse for not prioritizing accessibility just as much as stability and security. While this disregard may or may not be illegal, the fact remains that it is unethical and one should not be afraid to say so noisily and publicly, as long as one sticks to the facts and does not engage in name-calling or offensive language.
This leads us to the second question of the introductory paragraph: How do we convince developers to implement accessibility in their products? Based on my observations above, I logically derive the following general strategy, where steps are followed in the given order:
1. Data gathering. Have an expert evaluate the accessibility of the affected product. Be sure to involve the manufacturers of the affected product and your assistive technology to find out if the problem indeed lies with the product and not the user or screen reader etc.
2. Inform. Make the manufacturer aware of the accessibility flaws and point them toward the relevant technical information and known experts in the field.
3. Help. Offer to test new versions. Offer to spread the word if the effort on the part of the manufacturer is successful.
4. Moralize. Raise the manufacturer's awareness of the moral obligation of accessibility. Clearly point out to them that by choosing to implement it, they make the world a better place, and by choosing not to implement it, they choose to consciously compound a problem just as bad as global warming, crime, or drugs. Do not adopt an entitlement attitude or one of self-pity. Instead, convince with ethical considerations eloquently presented and backed by examples and evidence.
5. Expose. After waiting for a reasonable amount of time, raise public awareness of the manufacturer's failure to implement accessibility despite being fully informed. Do so noisily, eloquently, and factually. Let bad accessibility translate directly to bad pr, and good accessibility to good pr. Point out positive examples. Use direct comparison where factually appropriate.
6. If even now no improvement occurs after a reasonable grace period, then, and only then, take legal action. Do not attempt this lightly, and never alone. Contact lobby organizations for support, and do not even attempt anything if the legal requirements are not fully met.
Happy Easter, and here's to a more accessible world!
I read this article from a person implementing accessibility recently, and I think it provides a look into what the mindset of developers must be like.
That article is interesting and it illustrates that many companies lack the appropriate basis for prioritizing accessibility. To my mind it should rank up there with stability, security and reliability. An inaccessible site is just as bad as one that sells your data without your consent or gives you malware. As long as the former is regarded as a minor issue and the latter two are perceived as scandals, focus will be one-sided and majority-based. And I am by no means implying that majority-based decisions are always wrong, just that they are not all that counts. The quality of a civilization can be measured, among some other parameters, by the way that civilization treats its minorities. And when I read that Apple assigns resources to white cane and wheelchair emojis while at the same time not fixing long overdue accessibility flaws in their own apps, I can only conclude that my case about prioritizing cannot be overstated. It's almost funny. Almost.