When it comes to making websites accessible, there’s a lack of awareness among the people who design and build websites. At least, that’s what I have to conclude after speaking to quite a few different specialists. I spoke to people who build websites, who design them, who lead teams, who use websites with a screenreader, who study to become a web designer, and I spoke with accessibility specialists in different fields. They all agree. There is a lack of awareness. People don’t know it is possible to create websites that work for everybody. And if they’ve heard of accessibility they think it’s hard to do.
At first I thought I should focus on creating awareness at the junior level. For me as a teacher this makes sense. But quite a few people pointed out that deciding to build websites in an accessible way is a team effort, and as such is a cultural thing, which needs to be addressed on a senior level. In the next few months of my Master Design I will focus on creating things and events to create awareness on both these levels.
Awareness of accessibility on junior level
When it comes to the next generation of digital designers my ambition is clear: I want to ingrain accessibility into the obvious basics. As a lecturer at the university of applied sciences in Amsterdam I have a few possible ways to do this.
- Inviting people with disabilities to show my students how they use the web.
- Use disability simulators like simulation gloves.
- Let them study the basics of accessibility from a UX and a technical point of view
- Let them create websites (the most accessible, and the least accessible, for instance)
- Let them do research.
- Set up an environment where we can experiment.
There are several activities I’d like to start with in order to create awareness of accessibility among senior level designers and managers in design agencies.
I could organise a few different kinds of events to investigate this. What needs to be done to make accessibility part of a culture? Are there ways to get it into the basic design principles, or even into the mission statement? Can we set up guidelines when it comes to hiring people?
I assume that personal interviews and brainstorm sessions can help me coming up with possible things I can do on this level.
One thing that could work is an award show. Some agencies really love these. I’m thinking of handing out an award (or a series of awards) to the best accessible websites. This award should focus on a different, more solid kind of aesthetic based on the POUR principles, which stands for Perceivable, Operable, Usable and Robust. This will be a positive stimulus.
I could create a new award show, or I could try to make this part of one of the existing awards shows that exist in the Netherlands.
Such an award show could generate more attention to well built websites, which could result in a more positive copycat culture.
Another possible award show would be the My Little Pony Awards. A wall of shame. Fancy looking yet inaccessible websites can be unawarded here. While it’s probably a lot of fun to create something like that, I do have to investigate the possible side-effects of such a negative approach. Maybe it works counter productive.
Coming six months
Maybe it’s too ambitious to achieve all of this in the next six months. But these are the two directions I’ll be focusing on. If you have any ideas to get me going, please let me know.