Web and app awards that do not grade accessibility are discriminatory

Note: This post is older than two years. It may still be totally valid, but things change and technology moves fast. Code based posts may be especially prone to changes...

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This post is not your daily rant about not including accessibility into different online competitions – it is about why it really should be like that – we all deserve accessibility and there are no reasons why competitions should not add accessibility as one of key factors. It is beneficial for all!

Title may seem harsh but is totally true. When our products leave accessibility behind they potentially discriminate some people. Depending on the issues but it’s a fact that somebody may experience barriers and some may even experience physical pain or a seizure because of design elements or effects that did not consider them from the start.

I am not the first one that want to point this out, there were many before me, and they had much more expertise and credentials, but I still feel that this is a matter that deserves much more attention. So I decided to dedicate this post to it.

Accessibility is not only for blind people

I guess that a lot of people, both professionals and end users, that did not get familiar with the basics connect the term of accessibility with blind people and people in wheelchairs. The wheelchair user is often used as a general symbol for accessibility and maybe that is also adding to the common understanding of accessibility.

We must start with a simple clarification – there are different types of disabilities in the world and some of them may even be invisible and undiscovered. Let’s take cognitive difficulties for example – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can come with a spectrum of different symptoms. I am no expert on this matter, but I know some people that are officially diagnosed to have ADHD and it is obvious to me that they are all unique in their ADHD experiences. The same may be applied to a lot of different disabilities, especially the cognitive ones.

So we must always think about variety of different users and their needs and use scientifically proven concepts and methods to make our products work for widest possible audience. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can help us with this – as a baseline – a minimum. Respecting WCAG does not necessarily mean that our product will really be accessible – but it does provide us with a common ground and common understanding that will for sure help use to make our products accessible.

Universal design and accessibility should be more valued than aesthetics and visual effects

I am not saying you should drop fancy animations, videos and parallax effects and make a so called boring site or app. But please make sure your journey towards making an exciting and aesthetic product will not go against well established guidelines like WCAG. They will not solve all of the problems, and they may even be adding some distinct limitations to the design and coding of it – but please be aware that accessibility and universal design will for sure help with the overall reach-out of the product.

Designing with universal design and accessibility in mind should be not only our goal but also the journey. Including personas with different abilities, designing and testing with people with disabilities and generally thinking of the wide spectrum of people that are so often left out because we are not doing our best to make things work for them.

I have read and heard about arguments against accessibility that were for the most part defending user base ratio (for example there are “only” about 0.001 percent of people that are blind). Or direct quotes like “our typical customer is not a blind person” and likes. These points can be valid in the mind of stakeholders that ignore the modern world and the benefits that come with universal design and accessibility. They can easily spend their marketing budgets on borderline search engine optimization techniques, artificial product evaluations, adds and lead generation and so on. If a person is only motivated by their return of investment, then I can understand their point but am also totally against it.

When we design universally and with accessibility in mind we reach out to a larger user group – not only people with disabilities but also their families and friends. It is a known fact that accessibility adds a lot to customer loyalty, it is also a fact that families and friends of people with disabilities prefer to support products that are accessible to all. Please read w3c’s official page on the business case for digital accessibility (opens in new window), and it’s quite simple to find other resources that can help you to understand.

Making things that work for as many as possible is in my book always more important than fancy effects and visuals that may only work for some. At the same time it does not mean that we should just drop everything exiting – we must only think to make it accessible. Even most modern technology out there can be made accessible for many. Maybe not at once but it should for sure be our priority.

All of this should be enough to confirm my point – accessibility before aesthetics and visual effects. If our products can not be used by up to a quarter of users (depends on the country and the different accessibility issues we are responsible for) – then it should not be winning any contests when there are more accessible candidates. I get it – some closed communities (like for example visual designers / artists) are more oriented to impress each other than to make things accessible. I think that they are wrong and I think that this kind of a culture is dangerous. I understand art and artistic expressionism but at the same time I do not understand that folks do not even try – or sometimes totally ignore basic guidelines that can help people beyond their “inner circle” to experience alternatives.

It is all about offering alternatives. I am not a gamer, at all, but in gaming you can find amazing examples of alternatives – when games are made accessible. And as always – imagination and innovation can add a lot of value and experiences that can also be used to make other things more accessible to all.

Therefore I hereby join the club of many before me that wish, want and need all online competitions to include accessibility as a important ranking factor. That, besides knowledge and awareness, will for sure help a lot to make our digital products accessible.

Author: Bogdan Cerovac

I am IAAP certified Web Accessibility Specialist (from 2020) and was Google certified Mobile Web Specialist.

Work as digital agency co-owner web developer and accessibility lead.

Sole entrepreneur behind IDEA-lab Cerovac (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility lab) after work. Check out my Accessibility Services if you want me to help your with digital accessibility.

Also head of the expert council at Institute for Digital Accessibility A11Y.si (in Slovenian).

Living and working in Norway (🇳🇴), originally from Slovenia (🇸🇮), loves exploring the globe (🌐).

Nurturing the web from 1999, this blog from 2019.

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