Our post last week about the pitfalls of ARIA tabs pushed some buttons in the accessibility community. This week, Derek responds to the reactions and shares why we felt it was important to publish something that made our readers uncomfortable.
We suspected when we wrote the article we wrote last week that it might not be too popular. That it might be surprising. That some people might have very mixed reactions to it. The reactions we got on Twitter certainly seem to confirm our suspicions.
Some people were frustrated:
@jeffsmith I just wish it didn’t negate every other article I’ve read about making tabs accessible over the past six years. It’s frustrating
— Ralph Brandi (@thereisnocat) April 15, 2016
Some people were confused:
— Derick Montague (@beyondhyper) April 18, 2016
Some people came out in full support of the viewpoint that we believe in and published:
This reminds me of why I waited so long to really learn ARIA. I found success making things accessible without it. https://t.co/Xb2HBoNsxE
— Marcy Sutton (@marcysutton) April 15, 2016
— Adem Cifcioglu (@ademcifci) April 16, 2016
— patrick h. lauke (@patrick_h_lauke) April 18, 2016
We kinda knew debate would happen, and we were okay with it. Why?
Because we have to question current practice. We have to question the guidance that we’re given. We have to question the direction in which we’re going—and whether it’s leading us to the right place.
Most of us in the accessibility field base our solutions on experience with assistive technologies (usually screen readers, if we’re all being honest), or we base them on working directly with people with disabilities. But how often are new solutions really and truly tested with people with disabilities? Not nearly as often as they should be.
I get why the article hit a sore spot with a LOT of people. It calls into question years of work on ARIA. It calls into question the trust that web pros place in accessibility people to get it right and provide the guidance that non-accessibility specialists need. It calls into question the things that you thought you knew. And all of that can be quite painful.
Best practice evolves. What is best practice today may be completely shunned in six month’s time. (Look at icon fonts.)
Accessibility is no different.
We shouldn’t be surprised when the accessible implementation we find today isn’t the pinnacle of accessibility tomorrow. We should find out whether or not a solution actually works well for people with disabilities in usability testing. We should question whether that complex structure is really the best solution—and whether ARIA is the best tool for the problem we’re trying to solve.
Because accessibility is often ignored, we sometimes think “anything is better than nothing” and that technically accessible solutions are “good enough.” But good enough often isn’t.
Simply Accessible doesn’t take on projects where usability testing is excluded from the work that needs to be done. We want to go beyond just meeting technical requirements. From where we sit, if it’s technically perfect but unusable by people with disabilities, it doesn’t matter that we followed all the rules.
Accessibility isn’t about specs. It’s about people. Our job is about making sure people can use things we make.
And so, we presented scenarios from the usability testing that we’ve done—because it’s a treasure trove of insight and goodness. I know that not everyone can do user testing. So that’s part of why we do it. And why we feel compelled to share our findings with you, our community.