On Empathy

  • Personal
  • Web Design & Development

I’ll admit, I’m a little frustrated. Originally, I was going to title this post “Giving a Shit”, but I’m sure a few people would take some offense with that. Regardless, that is the sentiment I am feeling at the moment.

Why am I feeling this way? For years, I was unaware of the importance of accessibility in my work. Then I worked on a school website (then another right after) and took a deep dive and that changed.

I’ve realized that accessibility issues touch all of us in one way or another. Indirectly or directly. We have all been, are currently, or will be affected by some kind of disability in our lives. Not just people we know. Not just stats in our analytics. Personally as individuals.

Stuck in the mud

I’ve had several instances over the past couple weeks where accessibility has been basically brought down to a check on the site checklist. The “simple” question of: “Did we meet WCAG 2.0 AA?” Something I’ve learned though is there is so much that WCAG 2.0 AA doesn’t explicitly cover. Many times, we’ve met the technical requirements, but haven’t gone the extra mile.

Here are some things I’ve run into:

  • Mindset that other disciplines don’t have to think about accessibility earlier in a project.
  • Our plugins shouldn’t default to inclusive settings, because it is inconvenient for “normal” people.
  • Analytics “prove” our users aren’t disabled, or aren’t interested in features that would help make things more accessible.
  • We shouldn’t burden our client with having to make accessible content.
  • We want this feature from a third party and we don’t have time to make it accessible.

After years of working to advocate and push for awareness and integration of accessibility into the workflow at my current place of work, it is so frustrating to still have so many people in multiple disciplines not “get” it. If they did, I don’t think these would be things that would come up. It would just be understood that we should be taking the more inclusive path every time.

Le sigh

I’ve come to the point where I think this is no longer an issue of awareness. Now it is an issue of empathy. Seeing our users in ourselves. If we consider our accessibility job “done” when we’ve met the legal or technical responsibility and gone no further, have we really done that much good? Are we really showing that accessibility matters to us as a core trait? If we’re still making excuses to not do the inclusive thing instead of it being the default?

The counter argument is along the lines of “something is better than nothing”. On some level, that is true. But not having actual WCAG rules to point to with this mindset means that any issues beyond the established rules aren’t “real” issues. However, accessibility isn’t always so quantifiable. Automated tests don’t even pick up all the current WCAG rules right now.

There are so many features and issues that just don’t meet the level of quality that I would want or expect, as an engineer and as a user. We need to see more of our users as real human beings with actual problems. Stopping and thinking beyond just the written rules at face value and asking ourselves, “I have a disability. Would I want this to work this way?” For better or worse, asking that question to ourselves for real might be a lot sooner than we think.