Accessibility is not inclusive design or disability rights. It’s a part of it.

Every few months, the discussion comes up that you cannot make accessibility work if you are not fighting for disability rights or practicing inclusive design. While there is a kernel of truth in that – it will certainly be easier to make consistently good choices regarding the interaction of disabled individuals with the product you create – it is not a requirement for accessibility practices.

What I mean by that is that often, you are in a situation where you cannot influence the culture or moral of a company. Making inaccessibility a moral failure can mean that people go in a defending position, resulting in less progress than otherwise.

For me, accessibility is mainly a set of practices that allow practitioners to build their product in a way that does not introduce obvious barriers for users. To do that effectively, of course they need to learn about the disabled experience and how people (in my case) use the web. And hopefully that sparks interest and thinking more about disability needs as a whole.

The truth is that we live in an ableist world. Most accessibility work is done against ableist headwinds. Sometimes these are blatantly obvious (“we only want to conform to the minimum standard defined by law”), sometimes they are clear in project constraints (time and budget).

If I can change those parameters, I will, and I try whenever the opportunity arises. If I can use my WCAG report to inform developers on how to think about the interaction of disabled users with their product, I will.

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I'm a web accessibility professional who cares deeply about inclusion and an open web for everyone. I work with Axess Lab as an accessibility specialist. Previously, I worked with Knowbility, the World Wide Web Consortium, and Aktion Mensch. In this blog I publish my own thoughts and research about the web industry.

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But in the end, it is important that the practitioners do the actual practice of putting the right elements at the right place in HTML, and know what an accessible name is. It is one of the fundamental building blocks, because you won’t have an inclusive society if you don’t have these stepping stones in place.

There are often memes going around in the accessibility space that show “curb cuts to nowhere”. Where a curb cut does end at a place where there is no sidewalk. It nicely shows that accessibility practices on their own do not guarantee an accessible experience.

That said, the person putting in the curb cut is not responsible for making their municipal government anti-ableist. Realistically, there is no way to do that. One option is to give up and not add a curb cut to that side. Or the other is to do it, so it is ready once the sidewalk is built. And in the meantime it means a flat surface area for people to stand on, and a call button that enables blind and low-vision users to cross the street.

Is that disability justice? No, not at all. Is it inclusive design? Not by a long shot. Does it create the requisites to make both happen in the future? Yes.

Accessibility on its own can improve situations, following it cannot guarantee inclusive spaces. But without accessible building blocks, you can never reach inclusivity.

(Apparently this blog post was written because I saw this LinkedIn post by Tori Clark appear – and then vanish – this morning. I tried to re-find it, but once LinkedIn has changed your timeline, it’s almost impossible.)

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