Developers rarely talk about the importance of having the right accessibility strategy or tool in place to help with our development. Actually, we barely seem to talk about having an accessibility strategy or tool at all.
With the issue of accessibility at an all-time high, it’s time we, as a development community, talk about the importance of web accessibility— something more comprehensive than just using a screen reader as a tool to assist us, but ensuring our team of developers is on the same page.
Follow the Rules
Whether it’s working together via Slack, Drive, or Basecamp, being able to communicate quickly and concisely back and forth is a big deal. It helps keep things moving and provides a virtual gathering space for ideas, discussions, and documents. But accessibility issues aren’t as cut and dry as sharing a document for most people. For many, it is a complex web of rules and guidelines that many times seem insurmountable and overwhelming. How can we navigate all these subtleties easily as a team?
We need to be on the same page, speaking the same language. Having a shared vocabulary helps facilitate communication between team members (and clients) and allows us to solve problems more efficiently. Dev teams should be keeping up with accessibility rules and guidelines, to help establish a shared accessibility vocabulary. Ensuring everyone is on the same page with types of accessibility issues and guidelines will help keep things clear and consistent.
Given the amount of accessibility guidelines and rules, having an automated system to flag errors would be helpful. It is much more efficient to have a third party do it for you and it also frees up your team to tackle the problem instead of having to determine, find, and fix issues.
Collaboration is essential to get tasks done in an orderly manner. Collaboration allows for the assigning of issues to teams or members based on severity or difficulty. Also, since some developers are more well-versed in certain areas—say interactive widgets—you can make sure the right developer tackles the right problem.
That’s why you should keep track of all the issues in an organized fashion. Accessibility rules already fall under different categories. Logically then, grouping problems into similar categories will make it easier for your team to stay on track.
You should also identify which problems to focus on first, or at least rank them to help. Ideally, this could also use established guidelines or standards, like WCAG 2.0, to rank problems into levels of conformance. If the site needs to adhere to a particular minimum level of conformance, you can then focus on the issues that will help achieve that and not ones that are above the minimum.
Preventing Future Problems
It is one thing to find an error. But it is a whole other thing to actually understand why it is wrong. So developers should educate themselves not only on what the error is, but why it is an error as well. Developers don’t like seeing errors pop up in their code and would rather prevent them from the get-go. Understanding the source of a problem allows developers to learn about the problem and avoid it on future projects.
Eventually, those rules and guidelines won’t seem so insurmountable. Instead, they’ll be the norm. They’ll be something that the team will just do because it is part of their normal coding practice. Instead of finding out they should be using a button instead of an empty anchor, they’ll already know. This leaves the team more time to focus on the task at hand.
The Bottom Line
All members of the development team should work together to create a quality site, while minimizing development time. The less time you spend fixing issues on the site, the more time you can invest on other problems or projects. As they say, “time is money.”
Accessibility issues can be an eye opening experience that proliferates through your organization. And of course, more advocates for solid accessibility is a great thing to have. These are reasons you probably already knew, but the ripple effect translates into real dollars being saved for everyone involved.
Having accessibility be a part of the dev process up front will help your team communicate better, learn how to avoid future problems, and save time and money. The real importance of having a good accessibility strategy for your dev team ultimately goes beyond the walls of your business. Ensuring sites have solid accessibility helps the web community as a whole.
It means you’re helping your client, your organization, and the greater development community. Oh, and the people who it's all about in the end: the users.
Jon Christensen is a Web Developer at Westwerk, an Internet Marketing Agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Visit Westwerk's website to learn more.