Recently, an article was published about How To Make A Strong Case For Accessibility. First off, this is a very solid guide and has some amazing resources. Any attention to accessibility is great. However I did want to pull on some of the bullet points that have presented a little bit like facts and offer a different perspective.
Firstly, I would just question the use of emojis within the article as a replacement for bullet points and how this impacts certain users. While I know it’s trendy on social media at the moment I’m not 100% that some users will find this helpful.
“You can’t build empathy with facts, charts or legal concerns”
While in theory empathy should be enough or at least be a large part of buy-in, it’s predicated on an assumption that someone in a position of high power can operate from a stance that cares about people more than profit. And moreover, people that are different to them, as 96.3% of homepages in 2023 have WCAG errors, there is still so much work to do.
While empathy should make sense as a key-driver to getting budget or resource released. Traits that are valuable for those in power, especially at a very high level, sometimes seem to value being devoid of empathy.
Over the past year we’ve witnessed accessibility teams be let go by someone that is part of the disabled community themselves. Ableism is a system and from this action demonstrates how easily it can be internalised, someone failing to understand how this work would in fact benefit them.
I think it’s more helpful to think of accessibility compared to other systems. To counter it, this has to be built into the process, policies and compensation. There is often a common systematic pattern of push-back.
While building empathy can help with the culture across the organisation, build internal advocates, unfortunately empathy alone does not always release necessary budget. Empathy does not have the power to block a release of an inaccessible feature or app.
A Chief Accessibility Officer (CAO) in an organisation would be able to move the needle more than scores of employees trying a bottom-up approach with empathy to remediate accessibility technical debt. Additionally, this concept of building empathy places the burden on individuals to influence a systematic problem. To instill feelings into a budget holder rather than clear policies.
It’s similar to ethical debt, however while much of the harm within ethical debt cannot even be fixed, this is not true of accessibility. Accessibility teams, training, expertise, time, tooling, process and procurement simply require budget. While someone might not be intentionally ignoring disabled users taking no action is not a neutral stance.
The ADA was passed in 1990, WCAG was first published in 1999, the Equality Act in 2010. While this is partially an empathy conversation, this is also law. Some companies are breaking the law by building products and services that are inaccessible.
When real harm happens, often disabled individuals are burdened to take action. These lawsuits are not being done by governments, or large companies, the individuals that are directly harmed are doing this work. I would imagine these individuals have better things to do than fight legal battles.
One of the real issues is how the law is enforced. Unfortunately enforcing laws can itself can be deeply inaccessible. The closest ombudsman that operates in this space is the EHRC.
Referencing the case above, if disabled individuals are going to the trouble of going to court for over 6 years, I feel like the least we can do is amplify their voices by talking about these cases.
It’s hard to imagine other laws being broken and the response and strategy is to build empathy. Certain legal cases should be common knowledge, not only in development circles, but in the wider technology industry.
Often the times when accessibility is prioritised and budget is released is when legal action, or the threat of legal action, is due. The upcoming European Accessibility Act impacting private companies will most likely release budget as suddenly the threat of consequence becomes possible.
The companies that have been taking accessibility seriously from the start, will just continue as normal. Whereas others, might require huge re-writes.