Why I Dislike the Term A11y to Represent Accessibility

I am sure that a campaign to eliminate the use of the term “a11y” is a campaign I’d lose, were I even to try and start it, but after reading the term “A11y” so many times in the accessibility world, I just have to say that I still think it is not the best way to represent accessibility to the broader community. I’m someone who’s been in and around the accessibility business for more than 25 years now and when this term first started cropping up a few years ago, I had to ask what it meant. For those who are curious, the 11 in the a11y is meant to signify the 11 letters between the letters a and y in the word accessibility It is my understanding that this shorthand originated in the twitter world, where there is the 140 character limit.


I understand the practical desire to save characters and all but for me there is just something off-putting about this shorthand. Unless you are in the accessibility world, I daresay you have no idea what a11y means even today. I also understand each community develops jargon and terminology but part of the accessibility message is about reaching out to those who don’t understand what’s involved in the space. That may be the technical of how to do accessibility. It may be raising awareness that people with disabilities are not defined by our disabilities. I just find the term accessibility more welcoming.


I’m also a sports fan and I don’t see the football community adopting the term ff6l or the baseball community using b6l to represent football and baseball respectively as examples.


I recognize others may have different opinions and this short commentary likely falls in the category of the proverbial tree falling in the forest and that old question about it making sound if no one hears but at least here accessibility is likely to be the term I continue to use.


What’s your opinion? If you use the term a11y to represent accessibility, why do you do so? Do you think people outside the accessibility world understand what the term means?

What’s Your Experience: Simple Changes for Appliance Accessibility

Years ago when I worked at the Trace R&D center, I had the opportunity to be on a panel of judges at least once for an engineering class taught by Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden for a competition looking at accessibility of consumer appliances. My recollection was that students hat to come up with a design for a stove to maximize accessibility. TV Lenny, of American TV fame, was the main judge. One of the main criteria for the competition being that the appliances had to be aimed at the mass market while addressing accessibility.


I mention all of this because having just concluded a search for a new dish washer I’m once again reminded of the vast landscape of inaccessibility that still exists in the consumer appliance market. Simple changes could make a big difference.


As just one example, the dish washer I ended up selecting comes from General Electric. It has physical buttons, which in itself is a challenge to find these days. Better yet, when pressed, the buttons make a short beep sound. Great until you realize that the buttons cycle between multiple settings with no way to know where you are at any point in the cycle and no way to get back to defaults.


The simple change here as an example would be to have the buttons make two beeps when they’ve reached the default setting when cycling. For example one button is to select the washing mode and cycles between settings including Automatic, Rinse and a couple others I’ve already forgotten. The dish washer uses the same settings unless something is changed so you might say, great set things once and forget it and most of the time you’d be fine. But if anyone changes the defaults, it is a guessing game when you do not see to get back to known settings. And yet again, had GE just added a second simple beep when the Automatic setting was reached in the cycle, ease of use for people who do not see would be that much greater. By no means perfect but certainly better than what exists today.


I won’t claim to profess to be any kind of expert on who’s a leader in the consumer appliance accessibility space. These are not exactly everyday kinds of purchases for most of us. That said, it would be fun to see a panel at whatever industry tradeshow is the leader in this arena reviewing consumer appliances, much like that class competition I sat in years ago did. I suspect there would be a lot of ideas made available that when amortized over the scale of products sold by any manufacturer wouldn’t impact the bottom line.


I don’t recall all the details of that class competition but I do recall that one team included an optional handle of some sort for the stove for some individuals with disabilities. I also recall Lenny’s advice about that handle and is went something like, heck no, don’t make it optional. Include it in every box, most people won’t use it and will think of it as a throw away but the people who do need it will have it instantly and besides, people love throwaways like that because they think they are getting a better deal.


So readers, what are your experiences with appliance accessibility? Who’s the industry leader? What simple changes would you like to see made in consumer apliances?

Kicking the Tires on WordPress and Updating the Blog

After several years of using MovableType to run my blog, I’ve decided to kick the electronic tires as it were on a different blogging platform. WordPress seems to offer more of the functionality and ease of use I’m looking for with the level of blogging I do.

Reading through blog archives, I also realize my blogging has really fallen off in the past couple years. Watch for that to change in the new year. As a media consumer I tend to prefer longer writing versus the short bursts of content offered by areas like Twitter and Facebook. These are great mediums for finding such material so I don’t see myself departing from those arenas. But I want to get back into more content creation again.

I’m obviously new to WordPress so if anyone has tips on best practices around accessibility or spam protection in comments feel free to let me know.

The WordPress platform seems to work well with screen readers. The biggest challenge I’ve had is with areas such as adding and removing widgets that seems to require one to drag and drop. So far I’ve had to use advanced screen reader functionality or sighted assistance for these functions.