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I don't care about accessibility.

17 Mar 2004

These are the speaking notes I used during the Accessibility is for everyone! panel discussion at South by SouthWest earlier this week.

I came here to be on this panel to tell y'all that I don’t care about accessibility.

Don’t care.

Not an issue.

Hardly ever comes up.

Here’s my big secret for you today. When you design for the Web — that is, when you design exclusively and specifically for this medium — when you do that natively, so many of the things we consider problems just start to fall away.

John just gave us an amazing glimpse at the heights of creativity that are attainable despite what most would consider overwhelming constraint. Same goes for our craft. Having come from Wired Magazine, I’ve worked with print designers who literally scoff at the crude and primitive tools with which we work. Some examples:

And so on and so on and so on…

Like I said, most designers approaching our medium from another are simply astounded. But I don’t care. Because I don’t work with them anymore.

Now, granted, I live in a sort of Web design fantasy world, and I fully admit that. I’ve had the unique privilege to work with some of the most talented Web designers in the industry. These are designers that are at the cutting edge not just of design, but of the craft of designing for the Web.

These days, my work generally goes as far as interaction flows and schematics. Then I hook up with a visual designer to massage the experience into a browser. And here are the things I hear from those designers:

“Uh, yeah, we won’t be able to get that menu to float over there considering the semantics of this list.”

Or…

“I’m gunna need clear descriptions for all these form groups that capture their relationships. I’ll also need them for each column in this table. Can you write those, or shall I?”

See, these designers are approaching Web design as a craft. They are looking to squeeze every available ounce of Web into their designs. In fact, it actually reminds me of those folks at Wired who would do test after test of hideous fluorescent inks and glossy stock to ensure the dot gain was exactly right.

And through this experience, I’ve seen that the designers I’m working with have little trouble with the so-called constraints of today’s Web.

So when we run QA tests like validating the markup, running accessibility checkers — stuff like that — when we do that, we find a few mistakes here and there. Oops, forgot a title on that link. But not a complete mismatch of strategy to compliance. Just a few tweaks to get things work right, because it was designed and built right in the first place.

So I end up delivering solutions to my clients that are far less complex to implement, are much easier to maintain, cost exponentially less to serve, work on multiple browsers and devices, do way better in the search engine lottery, and — of course — are accessible to everyone … everyone … using the Web today. And try to argue with the business value of that.

And that’s why I don’t care about accessibility. Because when Web design is practiced as a craft, and not a consolation, accessibility comes for free.

Here are a few examples: