Chris Ashton

fortnight11y issue 54

After a couple of weeks off, your regular installment of frequent11y returns!

Why Don’t Developers Take Accessibility Seriously?

Melanie Sumner writes an engaging CSS Tricks article, exploring different perspectives on web accessibility in 3 ‘acts’:

  1. Melanie laments how the accusatory tone of some accessibility advocates doesn’t help. Developers have a lot to learn in their careers beyond just HTML/JS/CSS. In the absence of good accessibility from educational resources, frameworks and tooling, it’s no wonder that the output isn’t perfect. Implying that devs are deliberately excluding people, or are crap at their jobs, is only going to make them defensive.
  2. But for users who need better accessibility in order to navigate the web, the frustration “can boil over”. It can feel to them like they don’t matter, and the only way of getting heard is to demand the treatment afforded to them in law. Melanie says this can lead to a negative feedback cycle; some tech folks may opt out of listening because of the “rude” way it is delivered to them, and others may become overwhelmed as they begin to recognise the responsibility on their shoulders.
  3. The final act concerns a designer who feels ‘restricted’ by accessibility. They want to use certain colours, knowing it doesn’t pass colour contrast guidelines. “Please consider this: you’re not designing for yourself. This is not like physical art. It’s a false choice to think that a design can either be beautiful or accessible.”

Melanie concludes by asking us to approach our work, and the people around us, with compassion and curiosity. Don’t try to fix the past, but be resolute going forward: make sure the code samples you write in your next documentation are accessible; include accessible annotations in your next design; include an accessibility talk in your next conference.

EU Runs World’s Largest Accessibility Test

A Deque article that is well worth a read. The EU Web Accessibility Directive (issued in October 2016) stipulated that all government agencies in the EU were required to ensure their websites and apps are accessible by June 2021.

Every country has to monitor the accessibility of its digital assets annually and report its findings to the EU every three years. December 23rd, 2021 was the end of the first reporting period. This article looks at those reports and picks out some highlights; I’ve pasted some key paragraphs below:

“Having a fully accessible website is sort of like having a dust-free house. If you work hard at it, it is something you might achieve, but keeping it that way is almost impossible. The real question is how common and how substantial the accessibility problems are. This is difficult to say, as there is no standard way to measure this. Unfortunately, this means that in the next report, it will be difficult to judge if web accessibility in those countries improved over time.”

“Kudos to the countries that did attempt to quantify their findings. We can’t make direct comparisons between countries because they don’t use the same metrics, [but] three years from now we will be able to see to what extent accessibility has improved. One example is www.toegankelijkheidsverklaring.nl, a register of Dutch Government websites, ranked A to E.”

“The European standard EN 301 549 (v2.1.2) includes a good number of accessibility requirements that are not part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). For example, section 11.7 requires apps to support user preferences configurable through the operating system. It is therefore notable that more than half of the countries did not consider the additional EN requirements in their monitoring efforts.”

“All 27 EU members conducted research. The United Kingdom produced a report as well, though there was no formal obligation to the EU. The UK ceased to be a member state of the European Union on the 31st of January 2020. What we loved was how the UK communicated their results and retested the sites 3 months later to see how much they had progressed. This showed that sharing these results greatly improved these sites.”

“[This] is a great step forward for establishing digital accessibility as a standard across Europe. As always, there is room for improvement. The need for standard metrics in accessibility, for example, is a common limitation of the current standards, which the upcoming WCAG 3.0 may address. The next reporting period for the EU ends in December 2024, although we hope monitoring agencies will consider publishing preliminary results annually.”

Be the change you want to see in the world

This isn’t an article, but I just wanted to share a story from frequent11y subscriber Nick, who recently contacted me by email.

Nick noticed that common electrical items such as extension cords and adapters, sold for consumer use, have important safety information embossed on the items themselves. Despite being in all-capitals, the text can be hard to read, as the text is not coloured – only raised – and is written in small type.

The safety information is certified by a certifying organisation such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Nick reached out to UL to ask them to consider making it mandatory in their certification standards that contrast be sufficient across all kinds of products. For an analogy, he cited an IT standard and described how to determine contrast between two colors. He received a response promising to forward his request to the relevant people.

I think this serves as an important reminder that there is always more that can be done to improve accessibility, and sometimes all it takes is an email to invite change.

Next-generation spinal implants help people with severe paralysis walk, cycle, and swim

“Three men paralyzed in motorcycle accidents have become the first success stories for a new spinal stimulation device that could enable faster and easier recoveries than its predecessors.”

“The men, who had no sensation or control over their legs, were able to take supported steps within 1 day of turning on the electrical stimulation, and could stroll outside with a walker after a few months, researchers report today.”

“The nerve-stimulating device doesn’t cure spinal cord injury, and it likely won’t eliminate wheelchair use, but it raises hopes that the assistive technology is practical enough for widespread use.”

“For now, sending commands to the device is cumbersome. Users must select their desired movement on a tablet, which sends Bluetooth commands to a transmitter worn around the waist. That device must be positioned next to a “pulse generator” implanted in the abdomen, which then activates electrodes along the spine. Setting up to use the stimulation takes 5 to 10 minutes. But the next generation of devices should allow users to activate the pulse generator by giving voice commands to a smartwatch.”

The article goes into detail about how this device differs from previous spinal cord stimulators, and a bit about the history of such devices, which have their roots in the 1980s and were originally intended to treat chronic pain.

Shirt with magnetic buttons provides independence

I came across the above post on LinkedIn about a year ago; a video of a man called Lincoln, who has cerebral palsy, putting on a shirt unaided. The shirt looks like a standard button shirt, but uses magnets for fastening. The typically viral LinkedIn post was lacking in detail, so I did some Googling, and found the company that creates these shirts.

US-based MagnaReady was started by Maura Horton when her husband Don developed Parkinson’s Disease. When he started having difficulty fastening his shirt in 2009, Maura had the idea about using magnets, and eventually started the company. Watch the video (~5m) for the full story.

Sadly, Don passed away in 2016, but the company remains active and has a range of casual, athletic and sleepwear clothing for men and women.

The crisis is real: Where are the web accessibility professionals?

A WebAIM article with some real food for thought.

“The number of job listings with ‘accessibility’ in the title grew 78% in the year ending in July [2021] from the previous 12 months”. That’s on top of the 38% increase from the previous year. By 2027, the global accessibility testing market is poised to hit $606 million. Demand for accessibility professionals has never been higher.

But there’s relatively low take-up amongst newcomers to the industry. “WebAIM’s 2021 Survey of Web Accessibility Practitioners had a significantly higher level of respondents that were over the age of 45 (37.3%) than did the 2020 Stack Overflow survey of web professionals as a whole (8.9%).” The article suggests that the industry may reach chronic shortages when these individuals retire.

The article blames a lack of mandatory accessibility teaching in higher education, and calls for companies to pay accessibility professionals higher salaries to attract more people into this part of the industry.

Which accessibility settings do the Dutch really use on their phone?

I came across this article via a LinkedIn post by Gareth Ford Williams, which also summarises the article quite nicely.

This article looks at how over a million people use their phones in the Netherlands. 43% of users surveyed use at least one accessibility setting, the most common one being “adjust text size” (33%). Interestingly, of that 33%, 13% made the text smaller (meaning 20% made the text larger).

Only 1.27% of respondents have closed captions switched on by default, but as Gareth points out, this is likely because they’re more comfortable setting this feature on the app or website level. The figure is closer to 80% when looking at Netflix, Facebook and Twitter.

There are a whole host of other statistics about all sorts of accessibility features throughout, and reference to why such features might be enabled. This can include situational impairments (disabling “shake to undo” while on a rattling bus or train), educational (non-native speakers enabling captions while learning a new language), etc, as well as disabilities.

2021’s sample size of >1 million respondents is in stark contrast to the original study in 2020, which had just 268. The end of the article goes into detail about how it managed to achieve such high numbers this time around.


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