Blog PostCoding for Inclusivity: From Pixels to People

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Pedro Pereira

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May 13 2024

Introduction

Developer building a website

In my previous article, "Beyond Design: The Journey of Inclusive Experiences," we delved into the foundational principles of designing for accessibility. We equipped designers with actionable insights to integrate accessibility from the initial stages of their workflow. Building on that foundation, this article shifts our focus to the developers — the ones who bring these designs to life.

Let’s draw an analogy: think of designers as musical composers and developers as the musicians who perform the compositions. While musicians follow the scores, they also infuse their performances with personal nuances and adapt their play based on the audience. Similarly, as developers, we have both the power and the responsibility to transform static designs into dynamic, accessible experiences.

This guide aims to provide foundational coding practices that enhance both usability and inclusivity. Without further ado:

Coding Responsibly: Accessibility for All

"With great power comes great responsibility." - Uncle Ben

You probably already heard this phrase from Spider-Man. And, in my opinion, this principle is at the heart of our role as developers. When we code, we wield the power to create experiences that can either open up or close off the digital world to users. This section is dedicated to turning that power into positive action, making sure that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can access and enjoy our products.

Here are some essential tips and concepts to enhance accessibility through your coding:

  • Semantic Structure: Harness the power of semantic HTML to structure your content effectively. Use elements like ‘<header>’, ‘<nav>’, and ‘<article>’ not just for SEO benefits, but because they make your site navigable by screen readers, turning them into powerful allies in guiding users through your site's hierarchy.
  • Keyboard Accessibility: Ensure your site is navigable without a mouse. Focus on making interactive elements like buttons and menus accessible via keyboard. This is not just about compliance; it's about empowering users who rely on keyboards and assistive technologies to navigate with the same ease as mouse users.
  • WAI-ARIA's Enhancements: Enhance complex UI components like dropdown menus with WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes. These attributes are not just enhancements; they're necessities that provide essential context to assistive technologies, helping them understand and interact with your site effectively.
Developer on top of a monitor looking through code
  • Focus Visibility: Manage focus indicators to prevent users from getting lost as they navigate your pages. Clear focus indicators are crucial, especially when elements gain focus through keyboard navigation. This practice ensures that all users can stay oriented and interact confidently with your content.
  • Descriptive Alt-Text: Make your images inclusive by providing clear, descriptive alternative texts using the ‘alt’ attribute. This turns visual content into narratives that screen readers can convey, ensuring that all users have access to the information conveyed by images.
  • Error Guidance: Develop robust error handling and provide clear, instructive error messages. Guide users smoothly through the correction of errors. Good error management improves user experience and reduces frustration, particularly for those who might find navigating corrections more challenging.

Beyond Coding: Building for Everyone

Just as musicians must consider the acoustics of different venues, developers must account for the varied digital environments in which their creations will perform. This section highlights essential practices that extend beyond coding to ensure our websites and applications are universally accessible, regardless of the device or browser used.

  • Responsive Design for Diverse Devices: Access to the web spans a myriad of devices, each with different screen sizes and resolutions. Prioritize responsive design to ensure that your website operates effectively on desktops, tablets, and mobile phones. This adaptability not only makes your digital offerings accessible but also caters to the diverse equipment preferences of a broader audience.
  • Cross-Browser Compatibility: Users access the web through various browsers, each with unique characteristics. Rigorously test your code across a spectrum of browsers and operating systems to identify and address any accessibility issues. Consistent functionality and user experience across all browsers are crucial for achieving universal accessibility.
  • Graceful Degradation: When advanced features are not supported by all browsers or devices, adopt a strategy of graceful degradation. This approach allows for the enhancement of the user experience where possible while ensuring that core functionalities remain intact and operational. Such practices enable users with older or less capable devices to still engage effectively with your site.
  • Continuous Learning: Keeping up-to-date with accessibility practices is essential. Engage with resources such as the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to maintain your skills and ensure your products are accessible. Regularly conducting both automated and manual accessibility audits will help identify and resolve issues promptly, guaranteeing that your website adheres to the highest standards of accessibility. Additionally, participation in online accessibility forums and communities offers continuous learning and support from fellow developers.

A team of developers brainstorming

Continuous Testing for Optimal Accessibility

Maintaining the accessibility of digital products is a continuous process that necessitates regular monitoring and testing. Implementing a comprehensive testing strategy is crucial for detecting and addressing accessibility issues throughout the development lifecycle.

  • Regular Accessibility Audits: Conduct systematic accessibility audits using a mix of automated tools and manual testing. This approach helps uncover issues that automated tests might overlook, ensuring adherence to the latest accessibility standards.
  • Utilizing Browser Extensions and Tools: Leverage browser extensions and specialized tools such as WAVE and AXE for accessibility testing. These tools assist in identifying common errors and facilitate code reviews.
  • Cross-Platform Testing: Employ tools like BrowserStack to test the accessibility of your application across different browsers and devices. This practice is vital to ensure that users experience consistent accessibility, regardless of the technology they use.
  • Real User Testing: Whenever possible, involve real users who rely on assistive technologies in your testing process. Their firsthand feedback is invaluable and can provide insights into practical challenges and user experience improvements that might not be captured through simulated tests.

Implementing these practices will not only enhance the accessibility of your products but also contribute to a more inclusive user experience. By embracing continuous testing, developers can ensure that their applications are accessible to all users, reflecting a commitment to inclusivity and user-centered design.

Developers in an adventure fending off bugs

Conclusion

As our exploration from pixels to people draws to a close, let's revisit the analogy of developers as musicians. To become skilled musicians, extensive practice is essential. We must pay close attention to the nuances of our instruments, the acoustics of our venues, and the reactions of our audience. Similarly, as developers, we must continually refine our skills and our applications to deliver an extraordinary experience for our entire audience.

Reflecting on Uncle Ben's wise words, at Mediaweb we realize that even if a project does not initially prioritize accessibility, it is our responsibility as developers to consider the users and strive to enhance their experience. More than just writing code, each line we craft has the potential to open new worlds for users or to reinforce existing barriers. It is our duty to ensure that our digital creations are not just functional but are truly accessible to all, regardless of their abilities.

As we advance in our journey toward a universally accessible web, let us lead the change towards Accessible Web applications and ensure that all projects incorporate these considerations from the start. Together, we possess the power to transform the digital world. Let’s embrace this responsibility with passion and dedication, making accessibility a core component of our development ethos.

And you? Were you aware of these small yet impactful changes you could implement? Are you developing with accessibility in mind? Join us in making a difference today, one line of code at a time.