Accessibility for Everyone (ISBN: 978-1-937557-61-4) by Laura Kalbag.
Published by A Book Apart
A brilliant look at why accessibility is so important – and the practical steps everyone can take to ensure it is at the centre of web design.
Reviewed by Terence Eden
My mate Laura has written a book! She has very kindly sent me a review copy ahead of its release.
The first thing to mention is that this is not a technical manual. There’s the odd smattering of HTML in there – but this book is much more focussed on why accessibility matters and how to implement an accessibility positive culture – rather than which specific tags to use in your code.
This is a book for managers, designers, and programmers. As she points out, Accessibility is…
a team effort. The accessibility of the site isn’t just the responsibility of one lone developer who fixed all the problems before the page went live.
What is accessibility?
Before continuing this review, I first feel the need to explain the Social Model of Disability.
There is no such thing as disability. There are choices we make as a society which means that some people aren’t able to fully participate in the world.
We choose to have doors which are too narrow for a wheelchair to fit through. We choose to print text in a tiny font with low contrast. We choose not to include subtitles on our videos. It isn’t that people need us to make things specially accessible – we need to not put artificial barriers in the way of our users.
The web is pretty usable by default – it is up to us to keep it that way.
The second thing to know is that we all need accessibility eventually. One day you will be old, and your eyes will dim. Or you’ll forget your headphones and want subtitles on a video. Or you’ll be shivering with cold and need bigger touch-screen targets. Or you’ll be ill, and need something written in simple language.
Accessibility is for everyone.
Why should I bother?
As Laura points out, there’s a cynical reason to care about accessibility. Over two-million people in the UK have some sight-loss. It’s just good business sense to be available to as many potential customers as possible. There are a whole range of people who are left out of the modern web.
In the same way that accessibility in our physical environment isn’t just about wheelchairs, accessibility on the web isn’t just about screen readers.
Laura does an excellent job of explaining all the various techniques you can use to make your technology as inclusive as possible for everyone. Some may be obvious to you – but I’ll guarantee you’ll pick up some tips that you were previously ignorant about.
I consider myself well versed in accessibility issues – and I still found stuff in the book which caused me to re-evaluate some of the choices I’ve previously made.
There’s also a quick primer on legal situation in the UK, USA, and EU. People have a strongly defined right to accessibility – that almost certainly includes your website.
One thing I found particularly useful was strategies for recruiting users to test your site. Not only how to get a representative mix of people, but also how to avoid being rude to them.
This is a short book – 170-ish pages – and you’ll probably read it in an afternoon. But you’ll find yourself going back to it time-and-again. Each chapter clearly sets out the reasons behind adopting an accessible mindset and give specific strategies on making your team more open to empathetic design.
Laura’s book isn’t a detailed guide to the intricacies of ARIA or to the proper use of
alt tags – it is much more than that. Think of it as an introduction to the philosophy of accessibility. It is a book which is repeatedly quotable, well researched, and vital for anyone involved in web design.
It will spark conversations, and challenge you to reassess how to you approach building your sites.
Get the book
The eBook is available for $11 from A Book Apart – you get DRM free copies in ePub, Mobi, and PDF. The printed version is $21 + postage. Discounts apply when ordering multiple books.
I’ve known Laura for several years. I’ve even met Oskar – her enormous husky / malamute.
I sit on the W3C Advisory Committee, whose accessibility work features prominently throughout the book.