I’m sure you’re familiar with the age-old small talk conversation topic, “What do you do?” When I'm asked this question, I always take the opportunity to talk about digital accessibility and its importance, as well as how it’s not enough of a priority for many organizations. My friends typically ask something along the lines of, “Oh that’s cool, how would I get into that?” While there are many processes involved in getting your company to buy into accessibility, I’m going to illustrate how YOU can start your journey to becoming a digital accessibility specialist.

Start with HTML

The first thing to do is learn HTML. HTML, short for Hypertext Markup Language, is an essential component of the internet and a key element of modern web development. HTML5 is the current version, and learning HTML5 will grant you a good perspective on what accessibility features the language provides. One of the biggest guidelines about accessibility is to use semantically appropriate elements from HTML5 - they’re typically accessible as is! Once you’ve got a grasp on how HTML5 works and what it offers, the next step is a little heavy but it’s an important one.

On to WCAG

Having learned HTML5, we can move on to WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. That word at the end, "Guidelines", should tell you that these are not the end-all, be-all rules that will make your website perfectly accessible. These guidelines are carefully studied and formulated to support the majority of users and should be used as a baseline for measuring accessibility of your content. It is important to remember that no matter how many standards your content meets, there is no way to make any content 100% accessible. However, WCAG will help you get as close to that as possible. This link to the WCAG 2.1 standard will get you to a laundry list of accessibility guidelines to follow.

Note that WCAG is organized by accessibility principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. These are principles that every accessibility specialist needs to know. Definitely take the time to read about them on the WCAG website. When I’m using WCAG and I can’t remember where a certain success criterion is located, it often helps me to use my understanding of these principles to guess its location. All in all, this website will help you throughout your career in accessibility. Read the basic idea of each success criterion and see if you can find places on your favorite sites that follow or break some of these rules. Once you’ve got a situation where it’s questionable whether it’s a pass or a fail, that’s a good time to read into it more deeply. All these success criteria are useful to know, and generally what organizations will be worried about technically. However, we must remember that following these guidelines does not create a perfectly accessible site. We must remember the human factor.

The Human Factor

In accessibility, the most important thing to remember is WHO you’re making your content accessible for. People are not a set of guidelines, nor are they a screen reader. We are individuals, requiring different accommodations in different circumstances. For this reason, speaking to people who feel disabled by inaccessible web content is essential. On the WCAG website, there are testimonials from people with disabilities about how they use the internet, and about how they feel disabled on the internet. People are the most important piece of this puzzle. A person would be hard pressed to become an effective accessibility specialist without understanding the struggles of the people they serve. It’s your purview now. Take the opportunity, when you find it, to ask your own questions and have your own experiences learning about how the internet can disable a person.

On Your Way

These steps will put you well on your way down the accessibility path. A final note: the internet was designed to be accessible, and it is very much capable of accessibility. Inaccessibility is due to human neglect, 100% of the time. Study up and help me and everyone in the accessibility sphere create a world where disability is accommodated without stigma. Maybe even bring new music to that age-old question, “What do you do?”