Representing the Simply Accessible team from the West Midlands, web developer James Edwards brings a multidisciplinary approach to accessibility. (He also likes to sing.)

James Edwards

Reaching a wider audience

Composer, singer, tap-dancer and Stevie Wonder fan, James Edwards brings a unique sensibility to the Simply Accessible team.

Trained in contemporary music, James originally turned to website creation as a way of floating his music across the Internet in search of an audience.

He soon found his web development skills to be in demand, and it wasn’t long before he became a webmaster and JavaScript programmer. When he began to learn about XML, particularly the names of elements and how they relate to semantics, he saw there was a bigger scope to the web development scene. At the time, James believed that HTML was primarily a visual language, and once he came to understand that the elements were actually all about the semantics, not the appearance, and that assistive technologies rely on semantics to understand what content is, it made him think: Who benefits from all of this information?

It was an audience he hadn’t even known existed.

James had never considered the impact of web development in this way and, as he puts it, the discovery blew his mind. It also sent him down the rabbit hole of web accessibility, eager to learn how these interfaces are used, and by whom.

James quickly caught onto the need for an accessible digital world. Acutely aware that technology is a lifeline for people, whether they are isolated by physical disability or geography, James knew that a more inclusive approach to web development was just the right thing to do.

It was just a matter of time before he met Simply Accessible’s Derek Featherstone at a conference, and magic happened.

Enhancing the audience experience

Although James no longer makes music professionally, there’s no denying the influence of music on his thinking. To James, the relationship between web developer and user is not unlike the dynamic between composer and audience.

“When people hear music they don’t experience the music the same way as the musician does. The musician hears the parts and the structure but all the audience hears is how it sounds.

The same goes for the user of your site. For the most part, they have no idea how it fits together, and they don’t need to. What they care about is how they can use it, their experience of it.”

James knows that as a musician, particularly a composer, it’s easy sometimes to forget about your audience, to think that what you’re doing is just for yourself. But it isn’t. The audience is integral to the music-making experience. The same is true for web development, so why not approach it in a way that will reach the widest audience?

The artistry of accessibility

James contributes as web developer and assessment consultant to the Simply Accessible team. He sees the benefits to both, and enjoys the interplay between the roles. He brings his developer mind to assessment work, and his assessment mind to developer work.

Where the developer work can become insular at times, James always emphasizes bringing a yin/yang approach to the task at hand. This allows him to navigate between the details and the big picture with ease.

It’s exactly this aspect of James’ work that allows him to have the pleasure of craft and composition, knowing that he is playing a part in creating an excellent web experience for the widest audience possible.