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From our Depsters October 31, 2019

A look into ‘Accessibility Essentials’ for the web

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As a frontend developer, it’s easy to chase the latest frameworks and techniques at the expense of other existing technologies and best practices that are for the benefit of all.

Accessibility on the web is something that affects all of us in one way or another; even those of us who consider ourselves to be without a specific disability because good accessibility practices work in everyone’s favour. 

Good accessibility isn’t the responsibility of one person on one team, it’s a mindset that begins with initial scoping with the client and carries through UX and design, as well as requires mindfulness from front-end coders to implement. However, with ever-evolving frameworks and processes, some of the basics related to web accessibility can easily be forgotten.

To continue the conversations we’re having around internet accessibility at Dept, I invited Chris Mills Senior Content Editor for the Mozilla Developer Network, to chime in on the topic and relay his insight on what should be categorised as essentials. The ‘lunch and learn’ event was open to the entire Manchester office to inform those intrigued on the subject and acted as a refresher for the front-end and UX/D teams. 

An interesting part of Chris’s talk was around WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications). He explained and demoed how developers can tame the “div soup” conundrum caused by some frameworks. This solution works in a way that it is possible to regain some of the semantic prompts using aria-labels, which helps web browsers determine the content of a page.

Additionally, he assured developers we can still work towards accessibility in frameworks, reminding them to just use a native “button” element — instead of hijacking a div — and the button comes with all good browser behaviour baked in. Don’t overlook the basic building blocks of the web that have been there since the start!

Chris was an absolute delight to have in the office and his light-hearted approach, but obvious dedication and care, made for an engaging talk that resonated with the team. He lamented the direction of current web dev trends, whilst describing himself as a “Web standards and a11y whingebag”.

Accessibility has never been too far from the news in the last decade, but more recently was brought up again when global pizza giant Dominoes defended a case for not making their site and app accessible with a screen reader. This demonstrates there is a lot of work to do in changing mindsets about how we build an inclusive digital experience for all.

Raising awareness of accessibility is an ongoing process. I consider this talk a success if everyone who watched Chris’s presentation left thinking “oh I didn’t know that, I’ll use that from now on” or “I’ll look out for that in the next round of testing”. Judging by the questions and comments afterwards, we achieved this across all the teams in attendance and will continue to improve our outputs in each of our respective craft.

For those interested in reading more about accessibility on the web, Chris recommended these resources to check out:

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