What I learned at Accessibility Camp Toronto

This past weekend, I learned that “accessible design” was more than just a buzz word at Accessibility Camp Toronto.

One in a series of sister events around the world that generate awareness and dialogue about digital accessibility, Accessibility Camp Toronto brought students, professionals, and end-users of all levels and abilities together at OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre.

I found out about the event over the summer, when I was exploring potential areas of specialization in the web development industry. As a new face in the community, I was nervous to attend the first event where I publicly identified my self as a front-end web developer. But after listening to some inspirational opening remarks, I was confident I was in the right place.

Here are my top three lessons I took away from this year’s Accessibility Camp Toronto:

 3. Think about accessibility throughout the entire website development process

Many speakers pushed for the need to reverse the habit of treating accessibility as an afterthought in the project lifecycle. Designers, developers, project managers, and anyone else involved in the project should consider the way end-users of various abilities can interact with their product at each step of their workflow. A number of useful, and easily executable, testing techniques were shared throughout the conference: make sure your content is still understandable if the images aren’t visible; check if the site is still usable without the CSS; when directing someone to click on a link, replace “Click Here” with more descriptive instructions. One tip stood out for me was applying a filter to a webpage that emulates the viewing experience for people who are colourblind. This was something I hadn’t thought about before, and it was a much needed reminder to never assume that everyone experiences the world through the same set of eyes.

2. Good UX = Accessible UX

The second session I attended called for a reconsideration of where, when, and how we think of accessibility. More than an issue that can be resolved with a quick fix, accessible UX calls for a concerted effort to build a sustainable culture of inclusive design. When asked if it would be a good idea to create an alternate, “accessible” version of a site, every speaker gave the same answer: creating a separate experience for people who use assistive technologies reinforces the problematic “separate but equal” doctrine. Ultimately, good UX and accessible UX are synonymous and indivisible, and neither designers nor developers should feel that they have to compromise the former to achieve the latter.

1. Next Steps

In addition to inspiring attendees to become more cognizant of accessibility standards, the event also equipped them with a set of tools and techniques to integrate into their workflow. People were encouraged to act as internal advocates for accessibility within their organizations, and to make accessibility among their priorities when designing and building experiences for the web. More than just a take-away, this sense of empowerment represented an important to-do that would help sustain the message of Accessibility Camp Toronto beyond the event.


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