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?

6 thoughts on “Why I Dislike the Term A11y to Represent Accessibility”

  1. I only use #a11y as a twitter hashtag since #accessibility is too long. The Internationalization crowd also uses #i18n or #l10n for Localization.

    I don’t go around saying the term “ally” like I’ve heard people refer to it every now and then. If I did speak the hashtag in real life, which I very rarely do, I say “A eleven Y”

    Sometimes if I have room in my tweet I’ll spell #accessibility out fully, but it’s not often you do.

    I’ve also seen people use #ax or #axs but I prefer #a11y since it is very unique and tags accessibility tweets perfectly without conflicting with other hashtags.

    I’d imagine sports fans might use #FBall or #bball or something along those lines though never with a number in-between, that’s a nerd thing 😉

    Of course I also did not know what #a11y meant when I first saw it in accessibility tweets, but I figured it out pretty fast 😉

    Every time I read someone complaining about #a11y I never see a better hashtag proposed?

    The general recommendation with any acronyms or abbreviations is to expand them in the first instance of their use. Like a11y (Accessibility) or NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access).

    Maybe you’re increasing awareness of the #a11y term now with this blog post 😉

  2. I agree, and think this is a serious issue. I’ve seen numerious instances of people on Twitter mentioning a developer of an App or service asking for #A11Y to be included or improved. There is no doubt these developers have no idea what #A11Y means. I can tell you that as a developer myself, if I were receiving an overwhelming number of comments and suggestions from users, I probably would not take the time to Google #A11Y or follow up with the user. Some will, and there appears to be a Wikipedia entry for the term, but regardless I think the number of people we are failing to reach when using this term to spread awareness is something to consider.

  3. I agree, and think this is a serious issue. I’ve seen numerous instances of people on Twitter mentioning a developer of an App or service asking for #A11Y to be included or improved. There is no doubt these developers have no idea what #A11Y means. I can tell you that as a developer myself, if I were receiving an overwhelming number of comments and suggestions from users, I probably would not take the time to Google #A11Y or follow up with the user. Some will, and there appears to be a Wikipedia entry for the term, but regardless I think the number of people we are failing to reach when using this term to spread awareness is something to consider.

  4. I generally agree with this post. I only use the abbreviation on twitter, and only in 2 particular situations.

    1. If I am asking the accessibility community itself how good the accessibility of something is, and I know my audience knows the meaning, I’ll use it just for convenience.
    2. In other situations, I will spell it out first. If the tweet is too long, I will try to find other shorthand abbreviations first. Only if absolutely necessary, I will resort to a11y. Lately, I’ve decided that it is better to send a developer 2 well formed tweets instead of one cryptic one. But if it is a very close call, like being 2 characters over, I’ll reluctantly use it.

    I’ve seen the abbreviation used in blogs, forums, etc. This is totally unnecessary. It should be written correctly in any place where a character limit is not a consideration.

  5. Asking a developer to improve a11y is exactly the same as asking the developer to improve i18n or l10n. If a developer knows what i18n and l10n are, or is willing to look it up, then there’s simply no excuse for not knowing what a11y is or refusing to look it up. It’s an abbreviation, plain and simple. If you don’t like it, don’t use it, but you’ll never get most people to stop using a common abbreviation. Are you willing to rant about the use of i18n? If not, then a11y is certainly an appropriate abbreviation for accessibility, just as i18n is an appropriate abbreviation for internationalization and l10n is an appropriate abbreviation for localization. Also, I have heard very few if any complaints about people using rt to stand for retweet, NFL to stand for National Football League or MLB to stand for Major League Baseball. There are plenty of abbreviations out in the wild that are commonly used. I don’t see anyone complaining about any of them except a11y. I would take this oppertunity to complain about the ambiguity of Dr. (Doctor) and Dr. (Drive), as well as that of St. (Saint) and St. (Street). But we see examples of many of these every day as well, and the only complaint comes from speech software developers who find it hard to know how to expand St. and Dr. when the software reads them.

    As for me, I generally abbreviate in package names for software, as well as in places like Twitter and text messages, where every character counts, but in longer posts or comments like this where I have more freedom to type away, I generally abbreviate less. I believe this is mostly common practice. I don’t, however, cringe whenever I see an abbreviation in a longer post, and if I don’t know what the abbreviation means, Google and/or Wikipedia are definitely good places to look for the meaning.

  6. I find the term A11Y really futuristic. And the term also begs to ask “Don’t you know A11Y means ACCESSIBILITY?” and even “You really ought to know by now that that’s what A11Y means>.” So honestly for me A11Y has become a ‘with it’ word. Also not to mention it helps save time when typing and you avoid the spelling pitfalls with the 2 Cs and Ss.

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