Accessibility for Everyone Read-Along: Chapter 1

This is part of a series of posts as part of the FINOS Global Accessibility Awareness Day Hackathon. I’ll be running through a chapter-by-chapter read-along of Accessibility for Everyone by Laura Kalbag and published by A Book Apart.

The FINOS Foundation has put together a hackathon over the next three(ish) weeks to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day and encourage folks from both a development and non-development background to get involved. I love a short time-boxed sprint to learn something new, and a hackathon’s always an exciting time to see people trying to build new things together. I thought - what better way to celebrate this than read a book that lays the foundations for accessibility for all of us!

As I read through the first chapter of Laura Kalbag’s Accessibility for Everyone, I see a lot of simple observations that help me make this idea of “accessibility” simpler and more approachable. Laura kicks things off with a hard-hitting call to action: there are a lot of reasons people give for not spending time on accessibility, but tackling design in a way that includes all human experiences and not just our own isn’t an edge case - it makes things more usable for everybody.

Accessibility doesn’t just benefit people with specific disabilities, it improves the usability of a website for everyone.

It’s easy to get trapped in the mire of any new topic and dismiss things as too hard, not applicable to enough people, or that you lack personal experience enough to make a difference. Laura talks about the idea of “colonial design,” whether you convince yourself that everybody else is just like you with the same challenges and needs. It takes empathy to imagine that a solution that works for me might not work for everybody else, but taking that shortcut is much easier. Laura flips this around and challenges us as product managers and designers - to look for ways to make things better for some folks and make it better for everyone.

Marjani Hall gave some great examples of this during the opening ceremonies of the FINOS Global Accessibility Awareness Day Hackathon:

When you solve challenges for someone that’s easily distracted, you also solve those challenges for people that are distracted for any number of reasons. Maybe they have a kid sitting next to them that needs their attention too.

It’s easy to think about “accessible” as an “other” feature, something we should probably understand for some small slice of our users. But we all know families that needed to juggle pandemic schooling, remote work, and other needs with just getting a job done. And the more I think about the ways designing for universal accessibility makes things better for me as I get older, and for my family and friends and community that have to wrestle with a constantly changing technology landscape just to stay safe and get a day’s job done.

Most of the first chapter takes us on a tour of the mechanics of screen readers and other tools that help enable accessibility. I expect these will be great anchors as we talk more about what it means to deliver accessibility for everyone. Still, I found those first sections that break down common barriers to accessibility to be the most enabling here.